In the 2016 Presidential general election which voters will ultimately determine victory?
So often in life we have to communicate to a group of folks by giving a speech or talk or we need to interview with someone we have never met before for a job we are seeking. And I have learned the best strategy in getting ready to do this effectively is to try and figure out who your target audience is. Who are they, what do they care about, what is their history, and what is going on in their lives. By doing this you can pull a mental picture together, and then understand more clearly the best way to enter into the discussion. So too in politics and in a presidential campaign.
Every single voter group will be important in an election likely to be decided by a very narrow margin — and determining how a campaign will devote resources to swing voters versus base voters (persuasion vs. mobilization) is a key strategic imperative. But in the end this election is going to be decided by a small group of independent voters.
Unless a strong third party candidate emerges (or if one of the major parties nominates an inherently flawed candidate), this general election looks like it is headed towards another polarized situation — GOP voters lined up overwhelmingly on one side and Democrats nearly universally behind their candidate. And so about 8 percent of the expected electorate, who are independent, will determine success or failure.
Whether you are the Democratic nominee or the Republican standard bearer, it is of great import to have a mental picture of who your audience is before you enter into the ultimate job interview — for the presidency of the United States. And that is just what it is — a job interview. When you are elected to the most powerful position in the world, you are hired by the voters, and it is best not to forget that because they can fire you or elect other people around you to put a stopper on your behavior.
The independent voters who will be doing the hiring in 2016 have many things in common. They believe the country is off on the wrong track and nor going in the right direction. They disapprove of President Obama’s job performance, but like him personally. They have negative perceptions of both political parties and the leaders on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
These voters are fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. They pay their own bills every month at home, and don’t understand why the federal government can’t live within its means. They support gay marriage, but also worry about the loss of traditional institutions. They are faith-filled people who are either religious or spiritual, but they aren’t judgmental or think they have all the answers.
These folks love this country, but worry that America’s best years are behind them. They want the government to have a role in their lives, but limited and as local as possible. For example, they have mixed feelings about ObamaCare liking some of the elements, but concerned it maybe too much federal involvement. They think both parties are captives of Wall Street and special interests and they wonder whether anyone is looking out for them. They don’t like the great income inequality that exists, but are more concerned with the lack of economic mobility. They don’t begrudge wealthy people, but have come to believe the system is rigged.
These are middle-class folks with old-fashioned values are facing great change in their lives and are wondering who has their back. And they judge people not based on words or speeches, but on actions. They are tired of being told one thing and watching folks do another. Many of them voted for both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush — and came away very disappointed in both. They want both political parties to work together, but only see divisiveness and dysfunction.
And on Hillary Clinton, they like her, but don’t trust her. They believe she has done much good over the years, but wonder if she can really change things in Washington D.C. The bounce between “she is part of the problem” and “she has possibility of being the leader” they thought she was. They would prefer to vote for a new leader, but will vote for Hillary if the alternative doesn’t represent them. And the same is true for Jeb Bush.
This is the job interviewer that Hillary, Jeb, John, Marco, and others need to keep in mind when they ask to get hired. That’s the person they need to practice on to figure out the best way to connect and communicate. Whoever does it best will probably get the job offer in November.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.