Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Post-Primary Blues and the Newly Undecided

First of all, I hope everyone takes the time to vote by today. No matter what your position, advocacy or candidate, participation and knowledge are keys to an effective government of the people. If you haven’t voted, I encourage you to do it now. Votes cast, and indelicate as it may seem, it may then be a good time to think more purposefully about what happens tomorrow.

At the end of today’s primary election there will be winners and there will be those who did not prevail. As a result, and if only for a short time, there will be a new set of undecided voters adapting to a new reality. How quickly disenchanted teams and voters work through this change may critically influence November results. To be clear, stronghold incumbents like Patty Murray, Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks have the advantage of recognition, dollars and historical blue-county and district wins. The campaigns ahead will be tough and there are no guarantees that conservative trends will sustain down the road. A failure to retain the active support of unsuccessful primary candidates, campaign staff and voters will increase risk of conservative losses at the mid-term.

There are a variety of theories on how people manage and work through change but all of them agree that change is a natural process and responses to change are predictable. At first, there may be shock, surprise, denial and a highly personalized loss leading to initial resistance. After all the energy put into campaigning this is natural and the transition to support someone else may be difficult. Most will ultimately rationalize the change and move to a stage of emotional acceptance but this is the critical point; what will acceptance result in? In this context, I propose there will be five likely outcomes to consider:

  1. Opt out. My candidate lost and I don’t really care anymore. The loss of my vote and advocacy will hurt downstream but I am not really at a point I can care.
  2. Active resistance. I am hurt and angry. Because of perceived or actual wrongs, I would rather have the opposition in office rather than the candidate who won the primary. I will take votes away though action or omission.
  3. Passive resistance. I won’t actively resist but may continue to grumble and snipe about the loss. I’ll follow the opposition lead if it is strongest and will erode voter support by my inaction.
  4. Passive support. If someone leads I will follow. I will help with votes if I am properly lead and understand my goals can be achieved too. I am open to becoming active.
  5. Active support. Game on. My candidate didn’t win but I don’t want to sit on the bench. The end goal is most important and I will be helpful.

If disenchanted conservatives, moderates and independent voters really want to replace big spending and progressive incumbents like Patty Murray, Jay Inslee, Norm Dicks and others this November, then they have to move past their initial disappointments quickly. There just isn't a lot of time. Winning campaigns will want to develop communication strategies that help move newly undecided voters through the change curve quickly and optimally to a phase of active support before opposition candidates drive a wedge. Teams should consider reaching out to strategically integrate their organizations and coordinate for the ultimate goal in November. The window of time to accomplish this is short and everyone’s participation counts. Keep your eyes on the goal.

November is coming.

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