If Democrats valued reaching peoples' emotional triggers, they could win the '14 elections in a cakewalk. After all, the Republicans are making people as miserable as possible, creating unease and unhappiness, blaming the president and telling people to vote their unease.
Republicans, but not Democrats, understand that if a voter wants to show his displeasure or anger at the ballot box, it does not matter that you have nothing to offer him. They have played that game for decades (see, e.g., "What's the Matter with Kansas", by Thomas Franks).
Meanwhile, democratic "strategists" delude themselves that polls showing, e.g., 80 percent of Americans agree with raising the minimum wage, and tell themselves that if they just had another $X million, they could "get that message across", and then people would recognize their self-interests and sweep the Democrats into power.
Getting a message across when another person is anxious or angry is like trying to pour more water into an already-overflowing glass.
While it would be far more effective for Democrats to connect with peoples' emotional triggers (which, given Republican behavior, would be a piece of cake), I have concluded after many years of trying that that is asking them to do something they are genetically incapable of doing.
So, instead, the next best approach is first to drain the water out of the glass.
Many red states and districts have majorities or near majorities that literally hate Barack Obama. We know why, but going there would detract from the point of this article.
To expand the base of discontent, Republicans have simply blocked everything, blaming the president for the results of their intransigence.
One hardly needs a psychologist to understand that so long as feelings of anger and anxiety are not surfaced and identified, those feelings control choices. Next time you are in an argument, try conveying all the reasons your wife or husband is wrong, and see how far that gets you.
In politics, no amount of money or messaging is going to penetrate. The electoral task is not to change those attitudes, but to prevent those feelings from unconsciously controlling voters' decisions.
Ignoring the president, or reminding people he is not on the ballot, does not make it. Discontent remains.
What is the first step toward getting "heard"? Listening. Active listening, that involves verbalizing to others what you heard them say.
The first step, then, is acknowledgement, e.g., "I know you do not like Barack Obama, didn't vote for him, and resent him being president". And, no, Democrats, once is not enough. It has to be repeated for several weeks.
A few weeks of such ads would open the psychological doors currently shut tight by anger and hatred to messages about voters' own futures. It is not difficult to fathom why this works. When one takes a feeling and has to consider it rationally, the feeling may not change but its power to block all other considerations is weakened.
Once enough water has been drained from that glass of anxiety, anger and resentment, those emotions are subject to rational dialogue. Indeed, they can be directed at true culprits.
What if Democrats ran ads in states like West Virginia, Kentucky et al. acknowledging voters' dislike, anger and resentment about Obama, but then posed this simple question: "do you dislike Barack Obama more than you love yourself, your family and your community?" "Are you going to vote against yourself and your family just to register your ...[choose one: anger, dislike, hatred]?"
Governor Steve Beshear (D-KY) used this technique very effectively. He told his voters that you do not have to like Barack Obama, you do not have to like him, but like yourselves enough to check out the health care exchange. They did, over 500,000 Kentuckians (nearly 10 percent of the state) enrolled in the state health care exchange called "Kynect". Kynect has a 57 percent approval rating; Obamacare is at 22 percent. They are one and the same!
So, West Virginia, you cannot stand Barack Obama. We get it. But why would West Virginians want to shoot themselves in the feet by sending someone to the Senate who opposes government spending on nutrition, on education, on roads and bridges and, yes, on healthcare? West Virginia would not make it without federal dollars.
Kansans must hate that Barack Obama is a native son. But, why would Kansas farmers send a slash-and-burn member to Congress to vote against government spending that would invariably include cuts their subsidies? Indeed, Kansas, you are trying that under Brownback...how is it working out for you?
Same even for Iowa that voted for president Obama twice. Eighty percent (80 percent) of Iowa farmers receive government subsidies. OK, we get that Iowa farmers may disdain the president...but, are they going to be happier and more prosperous when they have to sell their farms because their subsidies have been eliminated by a Tea Party Republican elected so they could vent their anger? How is the Tea Party going to sustain agricultural subsidies when they slash-and-burn all other programs?
Indeed, once the bad feelings and unease are acknowledged, peoples' minds are available for rational thought. Republicans have voted no on building new roads, bridges and airports; no on improving education; no on investing in basic research; no on fair pay for women....so long as Republicans can block it, you will have no rebuilt roads, no new bridges, no new airports, no more teachers, no investment in basic research...and so long as Republicans are in power, none of those investments that have made America strong and provided jobs for middle class families will ever be made again.
For good measure, they should flash an excerpt from Ted Cruz (R/TP-TX) reading Dr Seuss on the Senate floor -- all to keep people from getting health care. And remind people that Cruz will be the next Majority Leader.
Yes, I know, I know. This will only have an impact on the margins.
But, it is on the margins that elections are won.