Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Energize Base AND Appeal To Independents

I was talking with Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster about an hour ago, and he told me about a polling memo that he had just completed for Paul Hackett last week. Before Hackett dropped out yesterday, the memo had been set for release today.

At the end of a lengthy post about Hackett, The Fix has a round-up of the polling memo. While I may be over-extrapolating, I think the memo shows that what the netroots likes, the electorate likes:
Hackett's decision was so unexpected that his campaign pollster -- Mark Blumenthal -- had prepared a polling memo to be released today detailing a survey conducted Feb. 6-8. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Fix today.

While the initial head to head in that memo showed Brown with a 46 percent to 24 percent edge over Hackett, Blumenthal wrote that when a paragraph of only positive information about both men was read to voters, Hackett held a 43 percent to 41 percent edge. Among those who identified themselves as Democrats, Brown led 44 percent to 42 percent after voters heard positive information about both candidates. Among those who identified as themselves independent or other (Ohio has an open primary where independents can vote), Hackett held a 50 percent to 31 percent margin. The full text of each positive description is included in the memo and I'm posting that text at the end of this post.

While so-called "informed ballot" ballot tests are of questionable value, Blumenthal concluded that if Hackett could raise the money to simply introduce himself to voters, he would win the primary. Money, however, proved to be Hackett's undoing as he was unable to raise anywhere near the $2.1 million Brown had on hand as of the end of 2005.

H ere are two informational paragraphs read to voters as part of the Hackett campaign survey.

Hackett: Paul Hackett is a 43 year old Democrat, attorney and Marine Corps reservist from Cincinnati. Born in Cleveland, he attended Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University law school before serving in the Marines. Although he opposed the Iraq war, he reenlisted and volunteered for service in Iraq out of a sense of duty and responsibility. On returning, he ran for Congress and gained national attention by nearly winning a special election in a heavily Republican district. An outsider and political newcomer, Hackett wants to shake up the culture of corruption in government, saying quote, "if you like the way things are going in Washington, don't vote for me. If you think we need to completely change the way Washington does business, I want your support." He also says Democrats should stand up and fight for their beliefs on the war in Iraq, jobs, health care, education and the environment. Hackett says he will bring an honest, plain-spoken approach to the Senate.<<br>
Brown: Sherrod Brown is a 53 year old Democratic Congressman from Lorain. He first ran for office thirty one years ago and has served as a State Representative, Ohio Secretary of State and member of Congress. Brown says that in his thirteen years in Washington, he fought for his beliefs even when it meant bucking the political establishment. He consistently spoke out against the Iraq War and is proud of his fights against trade deals that sold out American workers from Clinton's NAFTA to Bush's CAFTA. Brown says the Republican team of Bush, Taft and DeWine have stood silently while Ohio has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, families are losing their health care and too many Ohioans are suffering from high prescription-drug and home-heating costs. Instead of public servants Brown says we have moneyed interests -- in Columbus and Washington -- who reward their friends, punish their enemies and shower money on themselves. Brown says we need a new direction.
I am posting this not to posthumously endorse Hackett over Brown, nor to make an argument that Hackett was more electable than Brown. Even now that it is over, I'm still staying out of that thicket.

What I do hope to demonstrate with this poll is to show just how well what the netroots likes in a candidate tests with the public. Earlier today, I think Markos did a pretty darn good job summarizing what the netroots likes in a candidate:
Bowers takes a reasoned look at why so many people are furious at the Hackett withdrawal. If nothing else, perhaps it will send notice to the establishment that we're not ideologically hard-left. Otherwise, Brown would've been the consensus choice being more liberal than Hackett. Probably not, but whatever. As it was, while views on the best candidate might've been split, there's no doubt that Brown's support was very passive compared to Hackett's rabid supporters. More evidence for my theory that ideology isn't what really motivates netroot activists into action. It's things like straight-talking, partisanship, and fearlessness.
In the paragraph describing Hackett in the poll, you find many of the same descriptive terms that Markos uses: straight talking ("Hackett says he will bring an honest, plain-spoken approach to the Senate"), partisanship ("He also says Democrats should stand up and fight for their beliefs"), and fearlessness ("Although he opposed the Iraq war, he reenlisted and volunteered for service in Iraq out of a sense of duty and responsibility"). When these qualities were tested in Blumenthal's poll, they tested quite well with the public. Among Democrats, Hackett was even with Brown's more professional, wonkier, progressivism at firing up the base. Among independents, Hackett held a significant lead.

I have long argued that it is just these positive, generally non-ideological qualities that Democrats need in candidates in order to break the Republican majority coalition, rather than better policies or more progressive candidates. I am in favor of those qualities as well, I just think the non-ideological, stylistic qualities will swing more votes. Blumenthal's poll offers some statistical backing to this belief, even if it only covers Ohio.

Contrary to popular belief, what the netroots likes in Democratic candidates is also what the public wants from Democratic candidates. Also contrary to popular belief, what the netroots most wants from candidates is mainly stylistic rather than ideological (although they do want the ideology too). The main problems we face, of course, are the same problem many straight-talking, partisan, outsider campaigns face. First, despite certain rare occurrences, we have difficulty raising the fund to project that image onto the electorate. Second, we have a difficult time convincing the established news media to project that same image. While voters say they want a straight talking candidate, there are few things the established news media enjoys more than playing "gotcha" and endlessly repeating the gaffes that are prone to come out of the mouths of straight talking candidates. Further, as part of the political industrial complex, the established news media is also more comfortable with establishment candidates. See, Bush, George W. and Kerry, John F for two example for this.

So, while it isn't easy breaking through existing filters of political information, it is comforting to know that if we could break through, the types of candidates we favor online would do very well at the ballot box. We are on the right track, we just need to keep plugging away.

Tags: Democrats, Media, netroots, Senate 2006 (all tags)

Comments

14 Comments

Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

Or the voters prefer candidates who have served in the military over those who don't.

It is very hard to pick out what exactly is was that they preferred...

by Nazgul35 2006-02-14 02:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities

I think a lot of people online who I have met tend to represent a bit of common sense. I guess you need numbers and analysis to back that up- but what I do is to ask people off line what do they think of what I am hearing online. I also tend to just look at what polls are saying. Most of the time the barometer points to the candidates what are being tauted here such as Hackett, because people like the excitement involved in a revitalized rather than constantly terrorized Democratic Party.

by bruh21 2006-02-14 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

I'm having trouble getting over this Hackett thing.

And I'm having trouble getting over all of our precious opinionmeisters that AREN'T having trouble getting over it.

The whole thing stunk from the beginning.  We all know it.  No need to re-cap here.

But, now, aparently it was a GOOD thing.

I don't want to join the black-is-white, up-is-down crowd.

We've already been put on notice by our dearly beloved failure consultants that our money is very good...but that we just need to be controlled.  Is this is what is next?

Kos and DD's book is barely on the stands...and then this happens...but it seems that it's ok by both of them.

"Nothin' to see here, folks.  Move along." Good God, I never thought I'd be reading that here.

It seems our party is very much a closed society...except now, our bloggy heroes are on the inside and all of us still ain't.  What else is new?

Thanks but no thanks,
Austral

by austral 2006-02-14 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

The bottom line is that Hackett should have stayed in the race.  

by aiko 2006-02-15 03:41AM | 0 recs
I think people...

...especially those who are not very partisan, prefer candidates who don't look like candidates/politicians.  I think this has hurt us nationally in the last two presidential elections, as Gore and Kerry both sure looked like career politicians.  Many people don't trust "career politicians" and it is very easy for oopponents to make negative charges stick against them.  

I wrote a more detailed post about this topic at TPMcafe last week:

http://www.tpmcafe.com/node/26475

by danielj 2006-02-14 03:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

I find it amazing that the "netroots" are always considered as something other than the "base" or even a small representation of "independant" voters.

I hope these critics get a clue.  We in the online world are also members of their "real" world and actively occupy other niches in it.

by ddrich 2006-02-14 03:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

I love you, ddrich, but it's US that had better get a clue.

Take a step back and look at this with your own eyes.

They wouldn't even let the guy run in our own gaddamn primary.

What does that tell us?

We had better wake up to something and wake up pretty quick.

by austral 2006-02-14 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

Just don't forget, Hackett was still never going to win this race.  People always get suckered into these "hear the description first" poll questions, but in practice, by the time the candidate gets the money (if ever) to get name recognition on the same playing field, the other side has defined them already, and the paragraph explanation doesn't play out.

I agree with the general point though about what appeals to voters.

by terry312 2006-02-14 03:53PM | 0 recs
Premise seems right, not sure about the analysis

I'm not sure I agree entirely with the analysis presented. Although I do agree the underlying premise is probably true, I don't think this particular poll proves the premise.

The one thing I learned from Ed Sarpolus about why pollsters from outside the state (in Ed's case he meant Michigan)is that they don't understand the local details that can make a big difference in analyzing the data. I think this same thing might apply here in Ohio.

The reason I'm skeptical is that what Mark describes as "only positive information" about each of the candidates is open to some debate. The information released included a sentence about where the candidates are from; which in Mr. Brown's case is northeastern Ohio. For people in Southern Ohio, and even the middle of Ohio, this is not necessarily considered positive information and it might even be considered extremely negative information.

A close friend of mine, who happens to be from Cincinnati, described the situation this way: "people from Southern Ohio have a hatred of people who live in Northeastern Ohio to the point that it borders on being pathological."

Now, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the point. Mr. Blumenthal may have inadvertently been giving negative information to people.

I still think your underlying premise about voters and the netroots is correct, but i'm not sure this is the best example to prove it.

by MarisaM 2006-02-14 04:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

Well I am beyond anger, bordering on crazed frothing. I am out of the Democratic Party{which I have faithfully voted for for 46 years}. The spineless Democrats, that play tiddley winks with our future are beneath contempt. I now await the democratic workers who ring my doorbell and tell me by voting democrat I can change things. Norlaj

by norlaj 2006-02-15 02:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

So you withhold voting for the Dems (your contribution) and are going to pick on the volunteers (their contribution)?

by Nazgul35 2006-02-15 02:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Netroots Preferred Candidate Qualities Can Ene

NOt picking on them, just listening to their very old song. I did  contribute to Hacketts campaign[spurred on by Kos's energetic request}, I have given to DNC, so please spare me  your sarcasm, no wait you go right ahead! Unlike  Democrats and  REPUBLICANS I don't march in lockstep. Norlaj

by norlaj 2006-02-15 03:27AM | 0 recs
Great

So it turns out that Hackett had the qualities the Netroots appreciate which are also popular with voters.  

So why did Netroots leaders Kos and Matt Stoller offer a bunch of technical justifications yesterday for why the Dem Establishment's decision to push Hackett out was, in the end, a good idea?  

From what I can tell, it looks like Kos and Stoller are trying to kiss up to the Dem Establishment by recognizing it's superior wisdom.

Blind Faith in Authority Figures is not a Progressive Value

And what happened to yesterday's post by Bob Brigham, who was quoted by MSNBC?

by shystee 2006-02-15 06:46AM | 0 recs
Why The Media Loves McCain

In general, Chris, I agree with this analysis 100%.  But I think that we may be missing something when we label the qualities we like "stylistic rather than ideological." They are not ideological in terms of substantive positions, that much is true.  But as your own earlier analysis points out, there is the internal class war among activists that just has to be seen as ideological in a certain sense.  And the ideology is primarily an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical one, which harkens back to SDS's Port Huron Statement and the promotion of participatory democracy.

This, I think, is the defining contribution of Baby Boom politics. Only it has never been properly and clearly defined for the nation as a whole.  Instead it has been truly and mightily spun, appearing more often than not in a degenerate anti-statist "libertarian" form, which in turn is used as a flimsy front for corporate rapciousness.

There's a good reason for this: anti-hierarchical participation is hard work.  Anti-hierarchical isolation--"you're not the boss of me!" libertarianism--is a whole lot easier, not to mention compatible with a significant sector of the ruling class (ala Domhoff's Who Rules America, and his continuing followup work.)

So, we have two nearly opposite ideological manifestations, plus a seemingly "non-ideological" one: the straight-shooter, regardless of ideology.

This is where we get to McCain.  His rankings on the DW-Nominate scale have varied from extreme to moderate conservative, never coming anywhere close to Olympia Snow-style territory.  He is, quite clearly a very ideological man.  And he also, evidently, has little problem with the way that conservatism is being turned into a cult of personality, as Glenn Greenwald has recently argued.  But he is stylistically a maverick.

He's not an independent, but he plays one on TV.

And why does this work so well?  Here's the key:  McCain resolves the media's own fundamental conflict you've just touched upon:

While voters say they want a straight talking candidate, there are few things the established news media enjoys more than playing "gotcha" and endlessly repeating the gaffes that are prone to come out of the mouths of straight talking candidates. Further, as part of the political industrial complex, the established news media is also more comfortable with establishment candidates. See, Bush, George W. and Kerry, John F for two example for this.
McCain gives the media both: a "straight-talking" candidate, who is part of the political industrial complex.  Of course, his "straight-talk" is virtually all for show, but that's why they love him so much: he's out to rock cradles, not boats.

They can have the apprearance of straight talk--as well as the catharsis it provides--without any of the messy conequences of straight talk. And McCain has the appearance of straight talk precisely because they never mention the fact that he's spewing a line of bull, they never play "gotcha!" with McCain.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-02-15 09:08AM | 0 recs

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