THE NEW FAD in American politics in 2004 was data mining. The Republican and Democratic National Committees invested heavily in building large databases that used consumer marketing information to segment voters into groups for highly customized communications.
Given the seriousness of the effort in both parties, it is hard to see how the Democrats ended up being so far off in the messages they delivered to the much ballyhooed NASCAR-dad voter. Clearly, the Democrats attempt to co-opt the marketing techniques of corporate America was undermined by their disdain of big business and the purchasing habits of average Americans.
Next to President Bush, few things anger liberals more than Wal-Mart and Detroit's Big Three automakers. The liberal intelligentsia views Wal-Mart as the most frightening force in corporate America because it maintains a non-union workforce. The Big Three are scorned because they make trucks and SUVs that consume copious amounts of gasoline. Liberals believe America would be a much better country if more of us drove Toyota Priuses to Whole Foods each week instead of hopping into Ford F-150s to get our groceries at Wal-Mart.
The problem for the left is that the majority of middle class America disagrees. Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation for a reason. One hundred million Americans shop at its stores to benefit from its everyday low prices. A working family can save more than $500 a year at Wal-Mart on groceries alone. This is latte money for liberals, but it makes a real difference to middle-class families who have to stretch each paycheck to make ends meet. Americans also like to drive big trucks and SUVs. The top three selling vehicles in the United States through October 2004 were the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado, and the Dodge Ram--all pick-up trucks. Despite the best efforts of Tim Robbins, the Prius is a mere blip on the automotive radar screen.
There is a reason Democrats are finding it difficult to win anywhere outside of the east and west coasts. The party is scornful of the cultural tastes of the people who live in "fly-over country," the region of the country also known as "Red State Majority America." While it must boggle the imagination of well-heeled liberals in Hollywood and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that people would actually drive a truck that gets fewer than 20 miles per gallon or that they would shop at a store that refuses to allow unions to drive up its labor costs, every time the Democratic party attacks Wal-Mart or one of the Big Three car companies, it is essentially telling a sizeable chunk of the American electorate that it should feel guilty about making wrong choices.
John Kerry could don camouflage, tote a shotgun, and preen for the cameras in a made for Hollywood hunting trip in Ohio. But his effort to look like an ordinary guy came across as contrived because it was. By embracing the anti-corporate rhetoric of liberals who bemoan the Wal-Martization of America and the evils of auto manufacturing, Kerry had already shot himself in the foot.
It doesn't take an MBA in marketing to figure out that attacking NASCAR-dad's favorite store and the truck he drives to work every day is not best way to convince him that you share his values. The entertainment, environmental, and academic elites who form the backbone of the modern liberal coalition are driving the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy off the cliff, Thelma and Louise style. Here's to giving Susan Sarandon a starring role in Michael Moore's next movie.
Trent Wisecup is a vice president at DC Navigators, a national public affairs and political consulting firm.