Sunday, September 7, 2008

Who will win ...

This blog may prove to be profoundly premature, but here is my take for what its worth.

After a week or so of watching the news cycle and looking at the right wing reaction to the selection of Palin as VP and the dramatic viewership of an otherwise lacklustre GOP convention (the GOP conventioned garnered higher ratings than the DNC convention), let me revert back to my original prediction - there is roughly a 67% chance of McCain winning.

Here's my reasoning:
  • Firstly, the GOP has pulled a fast one by selecting Sarah Palin. Two months is just not enough time to vet her. The GOP will keep her under wraps for most of that time and the DNC is just not good at tearing down their opponents. So, the positives of Sarah Palin - fresh face, conservative platform, exciting, good speaker - will all be apparent, whereas the negatives won't. The people who bring them up, such as Bill Maher and DNC surrogates, will sound shrill and will turn off even their supporters.

  • The DNC has taken the GOP bait. While the focus was on Obama, the continuous attacks were slowly wearing down his appeal. I had hoped, that the DNC and Obama would turn the attention back on McCain, who, frankly, would have found it hard to withstand scrutiny, especially given his 67+ policy reversals. Initially, the continuous re-emphasis of McCain-Bush by the DNC seemed well thought out and working. Then came Palin and the DNC got distracted. By making Palin the focus of attention, the GOP has been able to make the issues about Obama vs. Palin. By comparing Obama to Palin, they draw him down to her level and it takes the focus off McCain, so the GOP wins. Everyone who has concerns with Palin, will still be able to vote for McCain and those who have concerns with McCain, can vote for Palin. They can bring Obama down while not affecting their ticket as much.
  • The GOP has taken control of the news cycle by focusing on issues they can win: social issues, character, patriotism, oil and experience. They have managed to keep the conversation off the topics that the DNC wins: economy, job losses, healthcare and competence.

  • Hillary is betting that taking on Palin in 4 years is better than waiting for 2016 after an Obama win. Why? Well, if she was that against Palin, wouldn't she have appeared on Larry King or something to rebut her. By not responding, she has left an opening for Palin. Even a small residual feeling of rancour due to Hillary would undermine Obama's efforts.

Overall, the demographics are against Obama. He needs to win swing states where the voting blocks that decide the election are not the ones that have been flocking to him. The economy is in his favor, but with Palin on the ticket the GOP has managed to completely drown out the historic Obama speech last week and the focus is no longer on the economy.

One last point, this election is a battle against two groups of master marketers. Most voters have no idea what these candidates stand for, what their policies are and what they actually will do. They don't know and don't care.

In an article on this subject, Rick Shenkman comments that: (i) people are not really smart, (ii) The Daily Show viewers are no smarter than Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly viewers, (iii) people are surprisingly resistant to facts, (iv) people are not getting smarter, and (v) young people are not paying more attention. None of this is news to a marketer.

A lie repeated often enough becomes indistinguishable from truth. The reason is people, at the end of the day, are trusting. They believe what they are told, especially when it comes from sources they trust. It's an evolutionary quirk that is actually an advantage in most situations. If we see or hear something multiple times, our brain registers a pattern, and imprints it. It explains why most of us readily accept Newton and Einstein's laws, despite the fact that few of us have ever bothered to verify them. That's why the two sides in the evolution debate have such a hard time - very few of them know anything about what they are debating. They all believe, because they have heard it so often that they believe it must be true.

Once they believe something, People use negatives to reject, and positives to accept. So, a creationist will cite the most damaging information about evolution and the most positive one about creationism. Reverse how the information is presented, and they will reject the information before accepting their error. This is because most people like to have a positive self image. Accepting they were wrong is not in their nature. So, a convenient and ultimately self affirming lie will persist even in the face of incontrovertible evidence of an inconvenient truth.

The meme Obama is trying to implant is McCain-Bush. The meme McCain is trying to impant is Obama is not qualified. Obama's meme, however, requires people to also acknowledge that Bush was a disaster while avoiding making those who voted for Bush defensive. McCain's meme is ultimately simpler, it says you were right on the issues, wrong on the person - trust me, I will be better. McCain has the psychologically easier task.

So, here's the question, can Obama get the conversation back in his favor? Can he use his organization skills to offset the GOP spin machine? Can he implant the McCain-Bush meme effectively, or will the GOP be able to distract and plant doubts? I give Obama a 33% chance of pulling it off, and that too because he has been so exceptional a marketer so far.

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