Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why the Elections Matter (No Matter WHO Wins)

Check out my new white paper on advocacy and the elections., which refutes the conventional wisdom that suggests since all Presidential candidates essentially express the same views, it may not really matter who wins.

Even the politically-charged campaign of 2008 demonstrates this truism, where, on the same day in answer to similar questions, the candidates had this to say about recent economic turmoil on Wall Street:

"We must not bail out the management and speculators who created this mess." (McCain)

And then,

"[We] must not bail out the shareholders or the management of AIG that were making big profits when times were good.” (Obama)

(“McCain, Obama Scramble to Shift Economic Message,” Washington Post, 9/18/08)

Unfortunately, the rhetoric in the political campaigns fuels the fire of apathy in our political system. But elections and, more important, the advocacy efforts we undertake with our policymakers after elections, do matter -- and matter deeply -- to every individual, family and business in America, regardless of who wins the McCain / Obama matchup. To find out why as well as a dozen ways to get involved, check out this new resource!

Monday, October 06, 2008

How Citizens Turned Around the Bailout Vote

Last week's titanic struggles to enact a bail out bill revelaed one starting fact: Citizens have far more power in our democracy than we’ve ever given them credit for. In an environment where campaign donations and bribes are supposed to be the way to a politician’s heart, something has gone seriously awry.

While the "bail out" or "financial rescue" plan (depending on your philosophy) eventually passed, it did so only after, as pointed out in a Washington Post article this weekend, groups like AARP, the US Chamber and the National and Community Banks asked their grassroots to get involved. Only after the frantic calls in to Congressional offices switched to at least 50-50 were lawmakers willing to take the plunge.

Wall Street is in this predicament, in part, because they never cultivated the “power of constituency. They have relied on money and influence in a political environment where the authentic and personalized outrage of everyday citizens holds far more sway. You can’t blame them for trying. Conventional wisdom would dictate that these industries, which have more than doubled the level of giving to political campaigns in the last 10 years, should have been able to get this bill passed with minimal effort

Yet, if the “here’s my money, where’s my vote” approach works so well, why didn't it work earlier in the week? Clearly, there’s a backlash – and a big one: big enough to alter the entire structure of the deal.

The whole bailout debacle demonstrates that organizations with well-developed grassroots advocacy networks can have their voices heard like never before. It’s the reason we have talk of provisions to help individual homeowners, questions about whether the package should deal with credit card and auto loan debt and potential restrictions on executive pay. Where Wall Street dropped the ball, in addition to taking on questionable loans, was in not building a deep and broad network of supporters across the country willing to go to bat for them when those loans hit the fan.

Clearly, the lesson in all this (besides "don't borrow more than you can pay back") is that grassroots advocacy works. It turned around this vote -- maybe it can turn around yours!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Political Prognosticators

I attended a terrific event with political prognosticator extraordinaire Charlie Cook today. First of all, he referred to some great websites we can all use to keep an eye on the latest polling numbers, including the Gallup daily poll, where users can sign up for a daily e-mail update of the latest and greatest in campaign numbers.  Other great sites are Pollster.com and RealClearPolitics.com.

He had also, of course, had some useful / interesting things to say about the upcoming election, including:
  • Young voters are registering in droves and are likely to actually vote in the general this year.
  • He does not believe that Obama supporters should worry about the "Bradley effect," where voters might indicate that they would support an African American for president in pre-election polls and then change their mind in the voting booth. 
  • White voters over 50 are the toughest group for Obama to attract, and may be the ones that ultimately decide the election.
  • Democrats should expect to gain 6 to 8 seats in the Senate and anywhere from 12 to 20 in the House.
  • Obama's lead, although narrow, has been steady.  Unless something dramatic happens, he's likely to maintain that lead and win the overall election.
It was an entertaining and thought-provoking session.  We'll have to see if it was prescient in about a month!