10 November 2014

Rebranding parties: can it work?

A form of boutique politics was practiced in New York State during this year's gubernatorial campaign. Republican challenger Rob Astorino, hoping to take advantage of widespread distrust of the "Common Core" educational standards, set himself up as the candidate of a new "Stop Common Core" party. The Democratic incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, tried to draw more women than usual to a Democrat by giving them a new option; they could vote for Cuomo on the Women's Equality Party line. While Astorino's gambit is probably a single-use proposition, Cuomo may have a long-term agenda of undermining the Working Families Party, an institution at once inflexibly loyal to Democrats yet often critical of their alleged centrism, and dedicated to the still-unproven premise that they can pressure Democratic candidates further to the left. In the end, Stop Common Core provided about 3.5% of Astorino's total vote, as compared to the 16.3% who checked him off on the Conservative line, making the latter the state's largest "independent" party. In the Cuomo camp, Women's Equality provided little more than 2.5% of the incumbent's total vote, compared to 6.2% who voted for Cuomo on the Working Families line. Self-styled progressive voters more likely voted against both candidates by giving Green candidate Howie Hawkins just under 5% of the vote, presumably that party's best showing ever. For those bothering to keep track, the Libertarian vote was dismal, amounting to less than 0.5% of the total popular vote.

For what it's worth, Women's Equality slightly outpolled Stop Common Core, and both parties just made it over the 50,000 vote threshold entitling them to automatic lines on the next statewide ballot. On that level, for those with an interest in perpetuating both parties, this fall's results count as success stories. Is there a future in this sort of pseudo-partisanship? Not in any state where election laws forbid cross-endorsement of candidates, of course, but the greater creativity in labeling this year might get people in the big parties thinking as approval ratings for Democrats and Republicans in general continue to sink. If you can't throw an alternate party line out there and have it count for you, why not re-brand the actual major party? This, too, would be tricky under most election laws, but if that isn't feasible why not abandon the old labels and stake everything on a hot new brand? Consider how this may have benefited the Democrats this fall. Despite President Obama's low approval ratings, there is a barely-hidden majority of voters out there who came out twice, in 2008 and 2012, to give him historic victories. Many of these same people, reportedly, didn't bother voting either this year or in the 2010 races that cost Democrats the House of Representatives. As the numbers add up, this year is revealing a historically low turnout that clearly hurt Democrats more than Republicans, and apathy rather than vote suppression is clearly to blame. A kind of cult of personality devoted to Obama seems to prevail among the quadrennial voters, who seem not to give a damn about the other branches of government, and some people opined, both before and after the fact, that Democratic candidates had to embrace rather than run from Obama if they hoped to get votes at anything like 2012 levels. If this were the private sector, the solution would have been obvious. If these voters wanted a product called Obama, it was up to the Democrats to provide it, even if the man himself wasn't running for anything. If the quadrennial Obama voters represent the imminent majority Democrats expect to make life easy for them in decades to come, and if Obama alone inspires them, why not change the party name from Democratic to Obama, or create Obama lines everywhere and dedicate all advertising to getting people to "Vote Obama?" Depending on how things change in the next two years, you can keep it the Obama Party or change it to the Hillary Party or whatever your focus groups advise. All of this may sound absurd, but given the excuses being made and the blame cast at apathetic liberals after the election, there may well be Democrats out there who think something like this may have worked. A lot more probably can be convinced that it'd be easier than actually thinking hard and proposing new policies and priorities for the 21st century. And if no one steps up to start more credible alternative parties, it may be up to the Bipolarchy to make up third parties of their own to save themselves.


Anonymous said...

Why blame voters for refusing to vote when the party refuses to put someone worth voting for on the party line? The fact is the democrap party, like the repugnican party, exists to maintain the status quo. If those left of center don't like it, they have every right to show their lack of appreciation by not voting. If politicians need someone to blame, let them blame themselves for being a poor excuse for leadership.

Samuel Wilson said...

It's wrong for the Dems to blame the voters, but it's also up to "those left of center" to organize to win power rather than cede it to the Dems or worse. Rather than sulk and not vote, they should make sure they have candidates worth voting for by nominating some themselves.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the requirements for getting on the ballot is these days, but it simply may be that the democrap and repugnican politicians have simply made it all but impossible to do so.