Open Thread: It Was the Communications, Stupid?

Today's starter topic: Writing at the Ace of Spades site, pseudonymous blogger Gabriel Malor makes the case that policy issues in the campaign were not what won the day for President Obama. Instead, it was trivial, manufactured controversies designed to inflame low-information voters:

Binders, Big Bird, birth control, and blame Bush are not conservative or liberal issues. They're cultural issues. And the Left seized them and never let them go for the final two months of the campaign. Romney stood up and said "it's the economy." Swing voters answered: "but how are you different from Bush?" They weren't listening to our argument. They were listening for those cultural signifiers that would reassure them that the candidate was like them.

If there's one thing to take away from this loss it's that you can't force voters to pay attention to political issues. Remember now, swing voters are already a "special" group of people. They don't want to take sides. Politics is icky for them. So trying to persuade them on political grounds is not an efficient use of time. You have to persuade them on cultural grounds.

Swing voters really didn't want to think about the economy. But they sure had lots to say about Sandy clean-up. About Big Bird. About birth control and, God help us, rape. Those cultural issues that Democrats seized -- binders, Big Bird, birth control, and blame Bush -- went largely unrebutted by Romney.

To be honest, they were ignored by just about all the conservative commentariat too. I mean, they're ridiculous topics. Binders? Really? I'm as guilty as anybody else. I was standing here in my office complaining about having to write about something as frivolous and stupid as binders. But it turns out that swing voters are pretty ridiculous people. Go figure. Boy, don't I wish I'd paid more attention to binders now. The people who were frivolous enough to think binders was important were exactly the swing voters we needed to talk to, but didn't. [...]

It's because we thought those cultural issues were stupid, and, sure, they were. But we weren't supposed to be convincing ourselves. We were supposed to be convincing the neighbors who don't want to be partisan. SNL nailed that point perfectly in their "undecided voters" skit. It's not precisely that swing voters are dumb. It's that they've got other interests than partisans like you and me.

This is an interesting argument. And it has a lot of truth. Sometimes it seemed as if the Romney and Obama campaigns were running in alternative universes. There was a reason for that. Obama wasn't running trying to get the votes of independents. He was trying to get his base to show up for him because they feared Mitt Romney was going to be George Bush III.

Looking at Time's inside look at the Obama campaign data mill, we realize that the Obama campaign did not come up with these silly controversies purely from nothing. No, they were creating them based on extensive use of polling and data modeling.

It's true that there are larger demographic issues at work for Republicans that Romney was pulling against but a very well-run campaign can often overcome them as both Ronald Reagan and both Bushes proved. Do you think that Romney should have not only responded to Obama's trolling but also come up with its own non-political ways of making Obama look stupid or extreme?

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013