Why Most Marketing and Political Campaigns Fail
In both business and politics, leaders tend to overestimate how much they have in common with their audience
Perhaps the most basic political fact about the Covid relief bill Congress just passed —and that I wrote about a couple of days ago — is that its provisions are, for the most part, widely popular and largely uncontroversial. As a result, it’s a great example of Democrats doing something that seems politically obvious, but which they’ve often struggled to do: focusing on policies that are popular with voters, and avoiding policies that aren’t.
One of the main voices in recent years emphasizing the need for Democrats to pursue this strategy has been David Shor, who’s head of data science at a progressive nonprofit called OpenLabs and one of the most interesting analysts of modern American politics. Shor spends a lot of time analyzing election data, and looking at the effectiveness of political messaging, particularly by Democrats. He recently did an interview about the lessons of the 2020 election with Eric Levitz of New York that’s well worth reading. And he also had an intriguing conversation with Bloomberg blogger Noah Smith, taking a big-picture look at the American political scene and the challenges that Democrats face going forward.
I highly recommend listening to the whole conversation with Smith, because Shor upends, or at least complicates, a lot of casual assumptions about public opinion, the role of political leadership, and the value (or lack thereof) of public confrontation. A few of his points:
- A lot of policy progress happens, paradoxically, by not making a big deal out of what you’re doing, because that avoids activating strong opposition from the other side. (The recent omnibus budget bill, for instance, includes some genuinely progressive stuff on climate change, in part because Democrats deliberately avoided making a to-do about it, which in turn kept it from becoming a cause célèbre for Republicans.)
- When a president comes out strongly in favor of a controversial subject, it not only doesn’t automatically make their position more popular, but it can actually backfire and make it less popular.
- It’s relatively easy to go…