Low-Information Voters, Low-Information Politicians

It’s the messaging, stupid.

Much has been made since the past election cycle regarding the GOP’s inability to reach out to voters.  While doing so, many are focusing on the voter themselves, or as Rush Limbaugh refers to them – the low-information voter.

Time Magazine editor, Richard Stengel, explained that his magazine’s choice of Barack Obama as ‘Person of the Year’ stemmed from his ability to get people that “aren’t interested in politics” to like him.  Or as Limbaugh explained, he is the first politician capable of garnering votes from people “who don’t care about anything and who aren’t paying attention”.

But can we really place blame on the low-information voter’s lack of desire in engaging in complex policy discussions, or should we be focusing on the precision effectiveness of the messenger – the low-information politician?

The low-information politician presents a two-headed problem for Republicans.

First, their mass appeal to the low-information voter translates to an uncanny effectiveness for Democrats at the ballot.  The left runs on policies and platforms lacking in substance, but overrun with sound bites and clichés.  Every single political issue is broken down into a three or four word clip that can easily be digested by a populace which now sports an average attention span of 8 seconds.

Just last year, the Boston Globe ran a report that news sound bites had been dramatically reduced when covering political candidates, from 43 seconds in 1968 to a mere 9 seconds twenty years later.  This prompted then-Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis to complain, “If you couldn’t say it in less than 10 seconds, it wasn’t heard.”

Democrats have since adjusted, honing their sound bite skills which eventually culminated in the election of the most effective limited attention span appealing politician of our era, President Obama.

While the president ran around the country in 2008 spouting out the phrase ‘Hope and Change’ ad nauseum, the Republicans had to chase him around and explain to people that this actually meant a massive redistribution of wealth, tax and spend policies that will bankrupt future generations, and a foreign policy of appeasement that would leave our nation weakened in the world’s view.

What is the more effective sound bite?  A positively toned ‘Hope and Change’ clip, or a stodgy Republican explaining a negative concept of wealth redistribution? Obama woke people up, while the Republicans put them right back to sleep.

Jon Gabriel provides a more recent example of this:

In November President Obama said of the fiscal cliff, “I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced.” A few weeks later, the Washington Post conducted a poll and declared, “The public clearly wants a balanced approach to spending cuts and tax increases.” Google “Obama balanced approach” and you get 2.4 million hits. Boom, the narrative has been set.

Obama chose the term “balanced approach” because it’s a blandly positive phrase no one can oppose on its face. He doesn’t mention the fact that his idea of “balance” is massive tax hikes and no budget cuts, but few voters delve into the details. Obama is for balance > balance is nice > yay Obama!

Another example of this can be seen with the selling of Obamacare’s positive aspects to the low-information voters and politicians.  The President could continue to push a concept of ‘healthcare for all’, while Republicans had to take it upon themselves to spell out the costs involved in that legislation; the taxes (or fees), the effect on our deficit, the burden for future generations, the failures of other socialized medical systems, and on, and on, and zzzzzz.

Low-information sound bites versus well thought-out but boring details?

Sound bites win.

Perhaps far more dangerous than the low-information providing politician is the low-information governing politician.  These are senators, and representatives, and public officials who are actually governing and voting on policies that will dramatically affect the American people – without actually looking at the information provided them.

Nancy Pelosi, operating on the low-information concept of ‘healthcare for all’, famously uttered the phrase “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”  In other words, why bother worrying about details when, well … healthcare for all!  

Other low-information politicians were sold and voted for Obamacare, while Republicans were sent scrambling to try and explain the taxes involved, the individual mandates, taxpayer funded abortion coverage and the assault on the private health insurance market.

To quote Gabriel, Yay Obama!

More examples of low-information governance?

Going back to Gabriel’s example of the fiscal cliff bill, our U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the bill despite having no more than three minutes to actually read it.  Because reading is hard, yo.

Via CNSNews:

The U.S. Senate voted 89-8 to approve legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff despite having only 3 minutes to read the 154-page bill and budget score.

Multiple Senate sources have confirmed to CNSNews.com that senators received the bill at approximately 1:36 AM on Jan. 1, 2013 – a mere three minutes before they voted to approve it at 1:39 AM.

Senator Rand Paul would go on to say that the three minute estimate may be a kind one. “I’m not sure there was ever a bill printed,” he said.  

Why bother reading a bill when a) You can find out what’s in it later and b) it can be summarized in the handy Democrat sound bites ‘balanced approach’ and ‘avoiding the fiscal cliff’?

And even more recently, New York senators passed sweeping gun control legislation that substantially erodes the Second Amendment freedoms of law-abiding citizens, despite having only thirty minutes to read the bill.  Again, positive sound bites such as ‘saving children’s lives’ outweigh the concept of the Constitution of the United States.

The process prompted New York Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin to release this statement:

Moscow would be proud of our state Legislature and Executive Chamber, but every New Yorker should be outraged.

Why be outraged about such complex issues as the Constitution, when you’ve been spoon-fed tidy little bits of absurd platitudes that are easier to comprehend?

All in all, the messaging problem doesn’t lie solely with what the Republicans aren’t doing. Sure, Democrat success in recent years can certainly be attributed to their opponents fumbling on the concept of messaging.  But credit where credit is due. Democrats are appealing to the low-information demographic by providing little to no information on their policies, and ramming through legislation without looking at the information contained within.

What you – and they – don’t know, will assuredly hurt all of us in the long run.

Follow Rusty on Twitter @rustyweiss74