The fallacy of “electability”

For many Republican primary voters, their choice in 2012 all comes down to who they think is “electable.” Some people listen to pundits who proclaim so-and-so is not electable. Or they listen to polls taken right now that say head-to-head, Obama would beat Gingrich or Santorum.

What people don’t realize is that 8 months – and even 3 months – is a long time in an election cycle, and it’s a long time in a marketing campaign. A lot can and does happen in that amount of time – some of it planned or anticipated, some of it unplanned and unforeseen.

Especially when there’s an incumbent involved. From economic indicators to potential war in the Middle East, a lot could and probably will happen from now through November 6, and when it does, President Obama will have to deal with it one way or the other. Whatever he does will be judged by voters, and it will affect the election.

Another aspect of the electability issue is marketing. Right now, the Republican candidates are focused on beating each other. Romney is spending millions on ads tearing down Gingrich and/or Santorum, while the others are all trying to find ways to differentiate themselves from Romney, and each other, in a meaningful way. In marketing terms, they’re trying to build their brand and solidify it with their daily words and actions.

If the nominee isn’t decided until the August convention, they’ll be focused on each other until then. But as soon as a nominee is determined, that candidate – no matter who they are – will have the support of the other candidates and the Republican Party, and they’ll be focused entirely on Obama.

When the GOP candidate focuses on Obama, that will change the narrative and they’ll make adjustments to their brand. The speeches will be different. The goals will be different. The entire strategy will take a new, and as yet unknown, form. And that’s the point.

No one knows who any of the four would campaign against Obama, which is why any polling data taken right with hypothetical match-ups mean nothing. You can’t ask a block of potential voters right now who’d they’d choose between Gingrich and Obama and expect a useful answer.

On the flip side, Obama doesn’t know who the nominee will be, so he can’t really start campaigning against them, either. We don’t know what kinds of opposition research he’s got or how he’ll go about differentiating himself from the eventual GOP candidate.

Meanwhile, most people are not yet paying attention (and even more probably never will). What they know about Obama and Gingrich now is far different than what they would know about both of them in November of this year.

Gingrich would call attention to many of Obama’s actions and positions over the past four years, while Obama would try and explain how his plans will work best to continue whatever economic recovery is happening.

We certainly can’t look to polls for any worthwhile insight. Polls are static. They don’t factor in any of what will transpire between now and November, and this makes them worthless. Polls are a snapshot of right now, and the landscape will be much, much different in November.

The other thing to consider is that eight months is a lot of time to make or break a reputation. Good marketing can move people to do many things. And, as the saying goes, nothing destroys a bad product like great marketing.

Regardless of what you think about Sarah Palin, I believe she could certainly win if she were running against Obama. Sure, many people have their minds made up about her. But many more do not. And on the national scale, we’ve never seen her campaign for herself with her own campaign team. In 2008, she was restricted by the campaign team of McCain.

Her candidacy could be a huge disaster or it could be a surprise hit. If she connected and presented herself in a way that started to resonate with people… who knows? Likewise, people who’ve been written off in the past like Howard Dean or Steve Forbes may have done quite well in the general election. Anything in a long campaign is possible. (But of course, we’ll never know.)

To decide now that someone is unelectable, to me, is a huge mistake. If you have a candidate, regardless of your party or leanings, in whom you trust, then by all means, vote for them as long as they’re in the process. And if you have to move on to the next best thing, than so be it. But don’t try to figure out who people could vote for, otherwise you’re essentially giving up your vote to what you understand to be the will of others – and a vote it too precious to waste on guessing what you think others will do.

– My name is Jon Friesch, and I think you should do what you think is right.

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