It was still all about the female vote this weekend as both campaigns used their most effective attack lines to hook them. For President Obama, the theme was “They’ll take away your reproductive rights and public services”; for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), it was “They’ve been bad for this economy, and that means they’ve been bad for your families.” When you take away the fact that Romney doesn’t have an alternative vision we haven’t heard from every national candidate since the birth of America, his line is much more effective among the general voting population – meaning, more effective, period.
You could ascribe this to the simple fact that more Americans are affected by economic woes than bizarre approaches to contraception. But there’s a little more to it than that. How do you deal with the rare voter who is generally satisfied with their life and isn’t swayed by pitches based on their gender, age, race, religion, marital status, employment status or anything else? What’s a candidate to do with a voter who has absolutely no horse in this race, except America’s horse?
I call these people the anti-identity voters. They have identities, to be sure, but they ignore them at the ballot box. They have their own political values, but are willing to push them aside if certain situations make them untenable for most affected. They are typically highly educated on general policy matters and may even work in the policy field. They have also typically experienced a party or ideological camp firsthand and decided the whole concept was a waste of the country’s time. They save their emotions for situations in which emotions might actually benefit somebody.
You can truly spot an anti-identity voter by how they react to appeals to their identity. Say the voter is a twenty-something woman and the candidate loves to talk about how good his leadership would be for youth. The voter sends the message that she doesn’t give two shits about how good he’d be for youth and wants to know what he’d do to pay down the debt. If he doesn’t have a decent answer, she rejects him as a lightweight. (This is purely hypothetical, I assure you.)
There is a risk to candidates if they spend too much time trying to attract this voter. As much as it kills me to admit it, there aren’t many of them. Prioritizing them above the average, identity-based voter runs the risk of alienating the latter in the short run; you have to resonate with both. But proving that you have a substantive, broadly effective policy agenda assures the former that you’re worthy of a second look should you be elected and want to run again.
Besides, having a substantive, broadly effective policy agenda is a good idea even when nobody’s looking at it. What else would you be running to do, anyway?