Democrats Need a Refresher on Politics Marketing

Or they might lose another election.

Republicans seen to have a better grasp on politics marketing than democrats

Let’s be real — no one cares how qualified the president is for his job — probably including you…yes, YOU, reader. Sure, they might say they do. And in their heart of hearts, they probably believe they do. But they don’t. Though many Americans don’t know it, what they really care about is good politics marketing. 

What the American People really want

A few years in print and digital publishing has taught me that most people have no idea what they want. Odds are, they don’t want whatever they say they want.

Most people say they want quality content — information rich and fact laden. And yet, when we publish that type of content, it is consistently and empirically our lowest trafficked.

On the other hand, when we publish content that’s less informational, and more likely to strike some emotional chord, our websites would see tens of millions of visits from just as many users.

To be clear, we have no personal interest or agenda it what gets the traffic. We’re a business. And if well-researched, highly informational articles were the ones gaining tens of millions of users, we would produce that exclusively.

The numbers tell us we need to also produce empty calorie content because that’s what drives mass traffic. Demand drives the content strategy — not vice versa.

Turns out, media ‘ratings,’ whether it be traffic volume or viewership, aren’t all that unlike elections and polls.

The psychology of politics marketing

Emotion is often seen as the antithesis of logic.

Why then, would anyone come to the potum with the facts, or data, or real plans? Because they don’t understand this critical emotion-defies-logic phenomenon.

Edward Barclay, nephew of Sigmund Freud, is considered the ‘father of public relations.’ He was among the first to apply psychology-based principals to both political propaganda and mass commercial marketing.

Barclay believed that people made decisions based on emotions — even if they were directly at odds with conscious logic. He also correctly observed that people are extremely vulnerable to herd mentality.

Fear, desire, insecurity, nostalgia: These are the things people base decisions on.

One of Barclay’s most famous marketing campaigns was branding cigarettes as “Torches of Freedom,” beginning cigarettes’ longstanding association with rebellion that has enabled the industry to endure long after the deleterious effects of smoking became common knowledge. Feeling: 1; Logic: 0.

Barclay’s ideas have been adopted by marketers and are alive and well today. Many credit Barclay with the inception of mass marketing and consumerism.

The same phenomenon can be cited for many things. People denounce Nickleback in public. And yet, somehow, they still topped the charts for years.

People decried the Kardashians as they rose to fame, and yet, their reality TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians chugged on for a jaw-dropping 19 seasons.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is right, or how it ‘should’ be. This is how it is — for better or for worse.

Republicans get it…at least now they do

It’s about strategy. Who has the chops to actually win this thing?

As I watched the Democratic primary debates, I wasn’t that concerned with their platforms or policies. To be clear…I am concerned with their plans and agendas. But from my work experience, I also know that the horse comes before the cart. The candidate must be able to win first.

It doesn’t matter how amazing someone’s accomplishments are, whether or not they’ve been on the right side of history during their decades-long political career (*cough*Bernie*cough*), or if they have a very detailed plan of what, exactly, they would do when they took office — and wow, they’ve run the numbers, talked to all the right people and it really can be done and would truly make a huge difference in the lives of all Americans.

Because…*whispers* no one cares.

No, what I was looking for in the debates was more in American Idol’s Randy Jackson’s purview.

Who has that ‘it’ factor?

Were it up to me, I would have put my bet on Cory Booker. Young, articulate, good looking, tall. It’s shallow — I know. But the American electorate is shallow, and that’s your audience. And it’s how Democrats need to start thinking.

Republicans are way ahead in this requisite politics marketing strategy logic.

The ‘Teflon President’ understood politics marketing

Ronald Regan, arguably the modern GOP’s godfather, was a Hollywood actor before he was president — a perfect resume for the job (seriously)

Wikimedia Commons

So was Arnold before he became California’s governor. George W. Bush was widely perceived as (and indeed, referred to by the media as) ‘the guy you want to have a beer with.’

Sitting president Donald Trump is politics marketing on steroids.

Donald Trump comes from a media background. He ran Univision, had his own TV show, and has been consistent tabloid fodder for decades. Even now, as the POTUS, he seems very concerned with his media ratings and polls, which are, in effect, politics marketing: media ratings.

Trump even lashed out at FOX News when a couple of anchors voiced a rare disagreement with the President’s statements. He reportedly called the news station in a fury, citing that he was the source for their ratings. He was their star, the Kim K to their Bravo.

Trump even made threats to not circulate his interviews through their outlet, which would hurt their ratings. That has real, monetary value to the network — a fact Donald knows well. He reminded them that what Donald hath giveth, Donald can taketh away.

May the best brand win

Say what you will about his politics and his entrepreneurship: No one can deny that Trump’s personal brand (given its golden elevators, signature red MAGA caps, and catchy, albeit ethically bankrupt soundbites) is wildly successful.

In November 2016, Trump’s victory had come to many as a surprise. In the early stages of the campaigns, he was widely considered a fringe candidate — almost a joke of a campaign.

But from a strategic standpoint, Trump was successful in getting round-the-clock media coverage with his outrageous claims and ‘I’m-the-outsider-who’s-going-to-shake-things-up’ tactics. To be fair, he did shake things up…the way a bully holds another kid upside down and shakes the milk money out of their pockets.

That media coverage that paved his way to the White House — despite widespread belief that he was going to most certainly lose…right up until he didn’t.

Democratic amnesia

When Democrats have won the Oval Office, it was usually with a candidate who had that ‘it’ factor — or at least more so than their competitor.

Bill Clinton had that small-town feel that George W. Bush had, plus a smooth, fun side.

In June of 1992, Clinton appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show wearing shades, and played the saxophone for America. Less than five months later, he won the 1992 presidential election…by a landslide.


Likewise, Obama, who’s greatest strength was arguably his speeches both in content and delivery, “outshined” his opponents during his campaigns and secured eight years in the White House.

But the fact that the DNC has now twice neglected to put up a candidate with the necessary media appeal to win an election, passing over much more camera-friendly candidates in the process, shows this to be a serious blindspot in Democratic campaign strategy — a lesson they should have learned from the 2016 election upset.

Politics marketing really escalated in the 60s

This ‘president-as-the-face-of-the-party-for-the-media-and-people’ was evident way back in 1960, when Nixon and Kennedy faced off in the first televised debate.

Kennedy went into the debate slightly behind Nixon in the polls. Nixon was a more seasoned politician; Kennedy was relatively unknown. Statistically, the incumbent, Nixon in this case, has a strong advantage over the newcomer.

At the conclusion of the broadcast, many publications and political pundits reported that Nixon had ‘won’ the debate. He had, objectively, discussed the issues facing the nation at more length and with more forethought on next steps, than Kennedy.

But in the days that followed, Kennedy pulled ahead in the polls.

And it’s no wonder. Kennedy, a handsome, young, confident, and well-spoken candidate steamrolled Nixon, who appeared nervous, was visibly sweating, had poor, closed off posture, and appeared quite…well…old side by side with Kennedy.

Library of Congress

And that’s just not fair to poor ol’ Tricky Dick. It’s akin to putting Freddie Mercury next to Ben Stein on stage and asking an audience who has more star potential.

The real POTUS

Democrats would be wise to take the strategic move right out of Republicans’ playbook and put someone with media know-how as their candidate.

But if the president is just the star of the party — who’s actually going to run the country and make policy? Who actually represents the interests of their respective party? Who’s the star’s agent?

Well, if we follow the Republicans’ playbook here too, it would be the Vice President.

Dick Cheney is widely considered to be the most powerful Vice President in history — and for good reason.

Once the CEO of Fortune 500 oil company HallieBurton, he led the nation into the war with Iraq for…well, oil. Importantly, it’s highly unlikely that Cheney would have won the presidency himself. He didn’t have that relatable, likability George W. Bush had. He wasn’t a star.

The current administration’s Vice President Mike Pence has a long track record of representing devout Christian ideals. Donald Trump does not. It’s no surprise then, that the current administration has lined the court benches with very socially conservative judges — who will hold those positions for life.

It also explains Trump’s infamous church photo shoot during the height of the BLM protests in June of this year. Trump himself is only considered to be religious by 27% of Americans.

The shallow truth

We as a nation are incredibly susceptible to big-ego, no-shame type personalities. It’s tough — impossible, even — to hold people with no shame down.

Having charisma is an incredible skill in and of itself; it does not often come coupled with the qualities we tell ourselves we want in a candidate (someone who is smart, level headed, objective, etc.). But it certainly outshines them.

No, showmanship is a unique skill that’s needed to win over the hearts, trust, and most importantly, votes, of millions of people.

That is the reality of winning elections in modern times. Not that it’s right, not that it should be. But it just is. Democrats need to weave that into their politics marketing strategy. Until they do, Republicans will be able to steal the show, so to speak.

It’s either that, or Americans all sit down, do their homework, review candidates’ voting histories, financial investments, and loyalties. They must focus on what a candidate says, not how they say it, in debates. They must judge them on their integrity and political track record, not their ability to play saxophone.

We can do that…right, America?

I don’t know about you but, based on what I’ve seen on the business side of media–that’s going to be a ‘no’ from me, dog.


  • Tanja Fijalkowski

    Tanja Fijalkowski is an award-winning writer, editor, and designer. A North Bay Area native, she has written for various financial, business, history, and science publications. She's a deep-dive researcher with a strong command of data analysis and simplifying complex concepts.

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