JACK SPENCER: One way Republicans lose votes

One of the most memorable events of the 2012 Presidential election was Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s remark that his campaign had basically “written-off” 47 percent of the voters.

The 47 percent to whom Romney referred were voters who, one way or another, were “dependent on government” and pay no income tax.

Portions of the 47 percent Romney referenced are not totally dependent on government. Many low income workers rely primarily on their own toil, ingenuity and resourcefulness to make a living; only turning to government programs when and where their efforts fall short. Others might not technically be “on” government assistance at all – but are fearful of having to rely on government in the near future.

Romney undoubtedly lost votes when his statement was publicized. Yet, most of the votes he lost were probably the result of the general sense of negativity produced by exploitive rhetorical politicking. After all, a main point of his statement was that his campaign wasn’t even going to try to draw votes from the 47 percent. In other words, Romney’s campaign had already given up on the voters that were most likely to be offended by the comment.

The real significance of Romney’s 47 percent remark was not its impact on the 2012 election. It is the attitude behind his words that lose votes for Republicans by the bucket load – not just in one election - but in election after election.

There is a logical basis for Romney’s 47 percent statement. In fact, this type of reasoning has created a persistent truism among many free market “conservative” thinkers. The concept is simple -”those who depend on government and pay no income tax will invariably support candidates who present government as the primary source of individual security.”

However, this is a myth. What’s more, it’s a malignant myth that is rooted in an intellectual affront to the human spirit.

Flip the statement’s concept around and it reads: “those who depend on government and pay no income tax will invariably reject candidates who present self-reliance as the primary source of individual security.” There is absolutely no evidence to support this idea.

This lack of evidence is due to the fact that candidates who adequately present clear choices between self-reliance and government reliance are extremely rare. Obviously voters can’t reject self-reliance as the primary source of individual security unless they know it has been offered to them.

What Republican candidates usually fail to recognize is the reality that many – perhaps a majority – of those who rely on government are profoundly dissatisfied. As a result their campaigns repeatedly lack a message that offers self-reliance as a plausible means of escape from government dependency.

Such a message must begin with an acknowledgment that many of these voters feel trapped. In this way the candidate forms a kinship with the voter by more or less saying: “I understand your plight. I want to see you get out of it – and I believe my policies offer you the best chance of getting out of it.”

At its core the political battle in American politics can be defined as reliance on government versus self- reliance. In general, Republican philosophy leans more toward self-reliance, while Democratic philosophy leans more toward reliance on government.

Everyone – yes everyone - has a spirit of self-reliance that yearns for accomplishment and self-worth. For some people this spirit has been nourished, for others, too many others, it has been suppressed.

The more a person’s spirit of self-reliance is nourished, the more willing they will be to overcome the obstacles in their way. The more that a person’s spirit of self-reliance has been suppressed, the more likely they will give up when confronted by obstacles.

Ultimately, elections are won by the candidate who succeeds in convincing a majority of voters that he or she is “on the voters’ side” to a greater degree than the opposing candidate. For exponents of self-reliance the key to victory is finding ways to call to the spirit of self-reliance, not to classify large percentages of voters as being “unreachable.”

After losing elections, many Republicans advocate policy changes that edge ever closer toward the government reliance side of the core battle. This is a strategy based on the strange premise of “victory through surrender.” Actually it’s more than that –it is following the intellectual path of least resistance.

Switching policies is easy. Finding a message that calls to the spirit of individualism and self-reliance is a real challenge – most worthwhile tasks are.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.