Message in a Bottle: A New Democratic Strategy

by Lauren Bealore

The November 2014 mid-term elections left the entire country in a state of utter shock. Democrats everywhere had mouths agape as they watched the results trickle in through various news outlets with Republican candidates dominating state after state, from State Houses and Senates to the U.S. House and Senate to Governor.

For the State of Michigan, it was a devastating blow to the overwhelming belief that Democratic voters would produce the same results as they did in the 2012 Presidential Election; results they hoped would make up for the lack of voters in the 2010 mid-term elections. Many campaigns, mainly targeting the Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, hoped that predominantly straight ticket voters would support Democrats throughout the State of Michigan, thus creating a blue state. Instead, they were left to surf the crimson wave and watch the even stronger continuation of a red state takeover.

Many seats that Democrats hoped to flip from red to blue remained in the control of the Republican Party. In 2014 alone, the State House for instance, has seen several bills be held or overturned by the Republican majority, leaving many Democratic State Representatives unable to provide promised outcomes for the constituents of their respective districts. This frustration has carried over to the Michigan Democratic Party and played into their efforts for the 2014 election agenda. So if there was a sense of urgency on the Democratic Party’s behalf as well as current legislators in the 2014 midterm, why were the results so devastating?

In post-modern politics, messaging is everything. For the past 60 years, the Democratic message has been to be more liberating and socialist than conservative Republicans. As the U.S. voter demographic evolves and voters between the ages of 25 and 45 become more engaged in the political process, there is less trust in this messaging; in fact, there is more skepticism of the traditional political party system. In my leadership positions on campaigns, I have witnessed the Michigan Democrats attempt to adjust to this evolving demographic. The party has a strong dependency on Detroit voters, as well as other voters in other predominately Black cities, to discredit the Republican opponent – specifically during the Gubernatorial and Senate races. But this is not just a Michigan problem. Democratic parties across the country placed an “urban agenda” on field outreach, in hopes of getting the minority turn out for a non-presidential year. What they didn’t realized is that today’s educated voter is no longer a straight party ticket voter. 

From the 1920’s until the early 1950’s, the black vote, where not suppressed, was comprised of Republican Party voters. Contrary to popular belief, historically, our race holds conservative values in education, religion, and family. As the effort to court our vote has lessened, we have ceased to express our concern in communities for preserving education, religion, and family; at the same time we have watched the loss of our schools, neighborhood churches, and family structure.  In turn, our lack of expression has helped Democrats dilute their messaging – failing to incorporate people of color.

Not incorporating people of color in their messaging hurts the preservation of the Democratic Party’s ideas. Moderate Republicans and Independents, in comparison to conservative Republicans, harness messaging not based upon traditional libertarian ideals but what would benefit them and their lifestyle. So how can modern Democrats assure moderate Republicans and Independents that the Democratic platform deserves to be heard and represented more in the legislature? For starters, increasing the personal narrative. Each Democratic candidate should have a personal narrative that can relate to the voters in their district. Whether it is ethnicity, experience, or involvement, it should resonate with the specific demographic for that particular district and not read as generic. Next, actual policy initiatives should incorporated into campaign platforms. For Michigan residents the roads have been our biggest fright with the upcoming May ballot initiative Proposal 1; however, every candidate should not focus on the same policy. What about fracking and drilling? It is an environmental issue that is rarely addressed in campaigns due to lack of knowledge on how to address the issue. Proper messaging by the right candidate could have positive results at the ballot box.

The next item to include is cross-cultural messaging. African Americans do not benefit from a general, liberal agenda. It still does not hone in on most of our community’s needs. A candidate at any level of government, regardless of race, color or creed, must have a staff and overall campaign that incorporates a multi-racial platform.  Lastly, increasing fiscal-based ideals. Republican voters have been known as largest members of the business community. Part of the Democratic loss, especially nationally, was due to the lack of trust in a Democratic candidate’s ability to deal with economic budgeting issues. Businesses and taxpayers want to know that there is an investment in their product.

So where do Democrats go from here? Back to the drawing board to mentally prepare for the 2016 election, with the mid-term results serving as motivation to form a stronger strategy that captures a larger spectrum of voters.