Perception vs Reality in Politics

One of the many things I learned during my career in high-tech marketing was the difference between perception and reality. More importantly, I came to understand that perception almost always beats reality.

Our political parties demonstrate this all the time, of course. For example, Attorney General Bill Barr’s letter setting a perception that misrepresented what “The Mueller Report” actually said about Russian interference in the election became the accepted truth—despite the reality that the report said something totally different.

Caucuses and Primaries

We’re seeing it again now. As the primary season begins, the media, mainstream and otherwise, focus on the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary election. You can’t have missed this—the news appears everywhere.

And it all focuses on the Republican Party. Why? Because of two important decisions:

  • The Democratic National Committee canceled the Democratic Iowa Caucus.
  • President Joe Biden decided not to put his name on the ballot in New Hampshire.

That means the only people running, and creating news, are Republicans. The giant, insatiable monster that is the news media needs a steady supply of raw material. Think of an elephant eating its way through a grove of trees.

The Republican Elephant

Republican, Elephant, logo, perceptionUnfortunately, the Republican elephant has provided the only supply of news material so far in the process. That means we are treated to endless discussions of one Republican candidate over another, whether this one can beat that one, who showed up where (or not), and what pundits think it means for the future.

That means we are swamped by a deluge of articles that make it seem like:

  • Only Republicans are running for President.
  • The Republican party is the only party in the country.
  • Their candidates actually have plans and policies.
  • The party has a solid slate of candidates competing with one another.
  • One of those candidates will surely win the presidency.

The Only Game in Town

The Democrats, being silent, have also become invisible. Independent voters, lacking any part in the Iowa caucuses and only the ability to write in President Biden’s name in New Hampshire, have been neutered.

The reality, of course, is very different and that will likely become apparent in the coming months. For the moment, however, and at least until February 24 when the South Carolina Primary election is held, the perception is that the Republicans are the only game in town.  They will hold that position in the media for the better part of two months.

The Invisible Democrats

That makes two months when the Democrats are invisible. The administration is accomplishing things during that time, of course, and significant things at that. But those activities are largely invisible. Why? Because they are not things the news media monster cares about.

Those accomplishments, such as capping the costs of certain pharmaceuticals via Medicare, might improve the lives of Americans. The reality, thought, is that the news media consider them dull and boring. Thus, they say nothing about them.

The news media care only about sensational stories that get people to read or watch or that generate page views and social media Like, Forwards, Tweets, etc. That’s their red meat and they consume it in huge quantities. If the Democrats don’t provide any, they get no press. You snooze, you lose.

Head Start vs Catch Up

Now, it’s possible that these strategic decisions will pay off in the long run. However, I question the wisdom of handing all the news cycles to the opposing party for the first two months of the year. What’s smart about giving your opponents a head start? It means you just have to work harder and longer to catch up before you can pull ahead. Just watch The Boys in the Boat for a visual demonstration.

The Boys in the Boat, Movie, George Clooney, crew, rowing

Someday the Democrats may figure out how to do communications the right way. They may actually learn to:

  • Use emotions instead of just facts.
  • Make the point clearly and in language that ordinary people understand.
  • Address the audience where they spend time, not where the party feels comfortable.
  • Get out ahead right away and stay ahead. Don’t linger at the starting line waiting for just the right time.

Perception vs Reality

You may sense my frustration in all of this. Having spent years in marketing and communications, I learned the difference between perception and reality, along with how to reach your target audience where they live and persuade them to do what you want.

I know how to do it right and this is not it. In the business world, this strategy would get you nowhere. I’m afraid it will have the same result in the 2024 election.

NOTE: Please don’t comment on your opinion of “The Mueller Report,” Bill Barr, the Republicans, the Democrats, etc. This post is about communications–or the lack thereof.