Saturday, September 29, 2012

Presidential Punchlines

Old joke - Q: What does most of America call Election Day? A: Tuesday.

This election, like all others, will be decided by the undecided voter. But as this SNL skit points out, they really aren't undecided as much as they are uninterested. Some things just don't get people's blood going. They just don't believe that showing up to pull a level will make a significant difference in their lives. And to be fair, elections are rarely dependent on just a handful of people voting. There are exceptions, but we would all be rational maximizers if we did not vote. 

The trick is to overcome this. Appealing to these individuals through traditional methods is not going to work. No matter how many TV ads you run, it will not want to make them vote on election date. All they sense is a lot of negativity and who wants to be a part of that?

What does get their blood going though, is to be part of a cultural phenomenon. Like Obama did in 2008 with posters like this one:

People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. By telling them that voting lets them have a role in this play, then they will show up to the voting booth.

Presidential aura is one way. Some presidents have an aura that warms the room around them. A smile and a chuckle that can melt away tension and unhappiness. They open their mouth and the crows stays glued onto every word. Some have, some don't. It separates the pretenders from the contenders.

I don't have a good way to define it. But I believe that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's saying about pornography applies here, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."

But there is the opposite as well. If you don't have the aura (or even if you do, but still want to win), the opposite is to make your opponent into a laughing stock. The bad end of a joke. A traditional negative ad can lay the groundwork, but you need the comedians to pick it up from there. Take a gaffe they once made then use it to characterize them and all they stand for. People want in on the joke. To do so, they go vote. The character the joke pokes fun at becomes the story line.

When watching the election season, I wouldn't watch the politicians as much as I would watch the comedians.

Here are some examples:

Jimmy Carter:  “Oh my God! Your campaign got blown out by Jimmy Carter’s grandson! Oh, the Habitat for Humanity!" - Jon Stewart

Al Gore and George W. Bush:  "I happen to agree with Governor Bush on that, and I commend him for it. But let me add something in my plan. The "lock-box" would also be camoflauged. Now, to all outward appearances, it would be a Leatherbound edition of Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. But it wouldn't be. It would be the "lock-box"." -Darrell Hammond playing Al Gore on SNL
George W. Bush: I don't know what that was all about.. but I'll tell you this: "Don't Mess With Texas!" 

Sarah Palin: I can see Russia from my house and the rest of her political career,

Mitt RomneyRelatable Romney meme.

Without looking at any data, I predict that Obama will win this election for one reason: He isn't at the receiving end of the late night sketches.

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