I have a very vivid memory of being in a meeting hall in St. Louis in late 2007 as Obama organizers were recruiting supporters to go up to Iowa and knock on doors prior to the Iowa Caucuses the following January. The room was full of excitement, something that I did not particularly share. Part of it was that I did not want the physical discomfort of December and January in Iowa (the wimp factor). But an equal deterrent for me to volunteer was that I just did not believe that this was the way in which politics should happen.
I mean, what is the difference between citizens going door-to-door and asking voters to see it their way and the old Fuller Brush guy in the 1950s who would go door-to-door trying to convince people to buy one of his brooms? You might argue that voting is more important, and I would agree with that. But if it is so important, why do we leave our decisions to the whims of whether or not someone knocks on our door or not to try to talk us into supporting his/her candidate?
For those who really care about the future of our country, and the world, we study politics by reading up on the issues and the candidates. Ever since the 1950s, we have been able to receive considerable information through the air waves on television. Since the 1980s it has been from cable TV and more recently we have come to rely almost entirely on the internet.
But it’s not just politics that we learn about this way, it virtually everything that we don’t learn in a class or from someone who we already know, or from just taking some “think time” for ourselves. Whether we’re trying to figure out how to bake a cake or how to plan a vacation to another country, we don’t wait for someone to knock on our door and tell us what to do. When it comes to getting political information, look at the results of a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center on how Millenials and Baby Boomers get their political news:
On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that “ground games” work in politics, particularly in Iowa where only the most committed voters bundle up and go out on a cold winter’s night to attend a political caucus in their area. It’s quite possible that had Barack Obama not received the jump start that he did by winning Iowa in 2008, in large part because of his team of canvassers, he would not be our president and we might be wrapping up eight years of a Hillary Clinton Administration.
What the Obama team knew in 2008, as many other campaigns have known before and since is that many American voters are malleable and pliable prior to an election. Often times they really are not aware of who the candidates are and for what office they are running. They are as susceptible to a door-knocker as young children are to a stranger who offers to give them a ride home.
This is where Trump comes in. He presently does not have much of a ground game in Iowa as we approach the February 1 date of the 2016 caucuses. But does he really need a significant ground game? He is all over the television, the radio and the newspapers. He’s equally omnipresent on social media. He gets so much attention that he hardly has to advertise his presence or his ideas.
When I wonder why he has received such media attention, I remember that when he announced his candidacy, when of the foremost on-line newspapers, the Huffington Post, said that they would not cover him in their news section; only in their entertainment section. Great idea, but guess what? It didn’t work and for months now he has been front and center in their news. But the Huffington Post was right to consider has candidacy to be entertainment.
Trump has brought his own campaign so much visibility that he largely makes a ground game meaningful. What conclusions can we draw from this?
- Trump’s has engraved his identity into many Iowa voters simply by being himself and letting all forms of media carry the message for him, for free.
- It’s possible that in the future other candidates would be able to forego a ground game in Iowa, if they are stupendous entertainers like Trump.
- My wish that voters do not need “door-knockers” because they are independent informed about the candidates will probably not come true any time soon.
Is there any way in which we could create a “hybrid experience” in which candidates who are more thoughtful and responsible than Trump could independently become as well-known to voters? I don’t think this will happen in the near future. But let us not let the Trump phenomena pass without thinking how much better our political process would be if voters really knew a great deal about candidates.