Do you remember two years ago when the paid pundits waxed lyrical about what Obama’s defeat of Romney meant? I do. I remember it well. The consensus was that the Republican Party was dead and needed to rethink its definition or face political oblivion.
The ongoing blabber on all the so-called news outlets is as way over the top now as it was then. The analyses, if you want to call it that, were as wrong then as they are now. One can’t help but wonder why a party was dead when it nominated a marginal candidate like Romney, who did not represent the center of the Republican electorate, and lost by only 4%?
Political branding goes deeper than just a single candidate or a single election. Zebras have a difficult time changing stripes and US citizens have the same challenges as those distant and African relatives of the horse. A political brand identity is a difficult stripe to change, excepting an enigmatic candidate like Ronald Reagan, Obama (in 2008), Clinton (1992), and FDR in (1932). Aside from the McGovern/Nixon and Johnson/Goldwater elections, I can think of any that I would classify as a runaway election.
What happened to the Democratic candidates on Tuesday is pretty indicative of a nation that sees itself as divided. The Republicans remain brand loyal and active and the Democratic Party is still the fragmented coalition it have been since the 30s.
The very fact that the so-called experts are asking what happened to the Democratic coalition answers the question IN the question. Coalitions are loosely tied bundles of groups with divergent agendas. They have no loyalty because they do not share a single identity or point of view.
Marginalized groups are by definition low-involvement participants because the system that has marginalized them has reinforced the futility of involvement. It is hard to get your fighting spirit up year after year when the results of that engagement do little to change the reasons for the marginalization.
In this election, minorities and special interests voters decided they might just as well skip this election. The same can be said for Millennials.
The last group, the Millenials, are of particular interest to me as a brand guy. I would not want to stake my success as a brand on this fickle group. Experience tells me that they are quick to act and slow to identify. They try not to build loyalties, are bored easily and distracted even more broadly. They may have voted for Obama but they are definitely not Democrats. I’m not even sure you could call them Independents. I think they are a new party: The fickle/uninvolved party. They need exceptional reasons to move and would just as soon skip the effort and wait it out. (We actually have research to back up this claim.)
Both political parties have heavy lifting ahead of them. Neither party excels at singular brand definition and neither ever embarks on a branding campaign to lift party identification to a highly emotional level, except during an every two year blitz that leaves all of us wanting something else.
When should the parties embark on this journey? I think next month. Try running an ongoing campaign without negativity and packed with emotional reasons that you and I (and the Millenials) feel the intense pull to identify with something bigger than our singular lives and you will see change happen. Right now, both parties send out party invitations and only the old guard shows up.