Of silos and politics

Increasingly, campaigns are narrowly focusing on the voters they reach out to

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a car came down my street in North Manchester, going very slowly, obviously looking for house numbers, and stopping in front of a few of them. Upon locating the target house, a young woman would get out, go to the front door, ring the bell and either give a political brochure to the resident or leave it if no one was at home.

The car turned around in front of my house, and I asked the driver, “What’s the matter, your candidate doesn’t want my vote?”

The young woman replied, “Your house is not on my list, but here is a brochure.” It was for a mayoral candidate in the upcoming nonpartisan election for municipal officials.

I asked the young woman why she was for the candidate, and she gave a couple of reasonably lame reasons. I then suggested that every voter should be important to a candidate, especially in a nonpartisan election, and if it were I, I would have people leaving materials at all houses, not just a few. She seemed perplexed at this, but was pleasant.

I realized what I had just experienced was part of the process in this country of being overly scientific about politics and is part of what I call the “siloization” of America. Party registration, frequency of voting, past contributions to candidates, etc., all are used to identify good prospects, apparently along with amount of education, neighborhood and supposed net worth. Once a prospect is identified, political campaigns focus on the voter with incessant mailings, phone calls, solicitations and, finally, calls offering rides to the polls.

This is one example of the silos we get segregated in.

Candidates speak to those they think support them, instead of trying to reach out to and persuade all voters to support them, especially in primary contests, but also in general elections like the one mentioned above. The problem with this is that the majority of voters are not targeted, but worse, the message is tailored to a specific group, and not at the general populace, which tends to encourage candidates with more extreme views motivating just enough voters to get nominated, but causing the majority in general elections to become discouraged, as they more and more frequently are faced with choices they do not like.

That is not the only silo problem. With the proliferation of media sources available, people tend to listen to or watch the outlets that agree with them. They have their preconceived notions reinforced. The same set of facts can seem to send completely different messages when fashioned by the talking heads on these outlets.

Other silos exist in people staying in their own churches, gated communities, educational communities and not coming out to mingle with people of all ideas, classes, income levels and faiths. Without experiencing or getting to know the others, they suspect the others, and retreat to stay with those they understand and with whom they are comfortable.

Needless to say, common understanding of our system (call that civics education), politics in which candidates try to appeal to all people and knowledge of each other and not only our own groups, are required if we are to remain “one nation.”

The experience with the young woman on my street made me think of campaigns past. One of my first political experiences in New Hampshire was in 1966 when I was sent out on a cold November day to stand at a downtown Dover polling place to support Republican candidates, not knowing that that ward probably had few Republican votes. However, we sought to show the flag to all the voters, and expose them all to candidates — Hugh Gregg for governor, Harrison Thyng for Senate, and Louis Wyman for Congress (only Wyman won).

Years later, when Warren Rudman was running for the U.S. Senate in the GOP primary, I and a small group of other supporters, mapped out all the streets in Manchester and hit every residential unit in the city — all wards, all classes, all residents — seeking to persuade every Republican, Democrat and independent that our candidate was superior. We won the election, and, more importantly, let every voter know the candidate thought they were worth asking for support, so when he was their senator, he was one they could call their own.

Silos are dividing us. Our politics could unite us. I suspect seeking the votes of all the voters would be smarter politics.

The experts should think about it.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He can be reached at bcook@sheehan.com.

Categories: Cook on Concord