February 17, 2013

Republicans despondent about the 2012 election losses sometimes take to complaining about the electorate. Citizens are “low information voters,” or they have gotten seduced by the culture of dependency, some Republicans complained. Well, it is never a good idea to blame the customer or the voter if you want his or her support. Moreover, voters are smarter than these complainers imagine.


(Seth Perlman/Associated Press)

National Journal reports on two focus groups of “Wal-Mart moms,” that is “mothers who are mostly between the ages of 18-44, mostly white, with two-fifths to half having finished college. Their partisan affiliation tends to be evenly split. As a group, they voted for Obama in 2008, went Republican in 2010, but returned to Obama in 2012. They make up just under a fifth of the voting population.”

It turns out that they are skeptical of President Obama’s job proposals, uncertain of the benefits of preschool, concerned “that a higher minimum wage could raise consumer prices, such as bread and gas” and supportive of background checks for gun purchases but not of the other gun measures.

Such voters should be gettable by Republicans in 2014 and 2015 if Republicans can present an agenda that doesn’t insult their intelligence and an image that doesn’t scare  them off. Republicans would be wise to focus on three things.

First, address concerns about a middle-class squeeze. With rising health-care costs (thanks to Obamacare), exorbitant college tuition (thanks to a misguided student loan system and gouging by universities), and flat wages (thanks to a stagnant economy) these moms may have jobs (or their husbands may), but they feel poorer and more stressed.

Second, simply offering tax cuts or deficit reduction (sort of an abstraction) is not going to wow these voters. However, if presented with market-based reforms to lower the cost of health care; school choice to allow their kids to go to private or charter schools; a reformed and cheaper higher education system; and policies aimed at job and wealth creation (trade agreements to boost our exports; reining in the Environmental Protection Agency to save energy and manufacturers’ compliance costs; and repatriation and other corporate tax reforms to encourage business expansion), they may get interested.

Third, putting the debt in moral terms has a certain appeal. They don’t get to take out new credit cards when they’ve hit the limit on their existing ones. They don’t want to push debt off on their children, setting them up for a worse standard of living than they enjoyed.

That’s the substance, but the tone is equally important. They are inherently skeptical of big government, but they don’t hate government and they don’t like the acrimony. They are hopeful, despite all their financial worries, about the future. Politicians who want their votes should reflect the same mind-set.

Republicans have more information than ever from polling, exit data and focus groups. The voters are telling them as plainly as one can what they like and what they don’t. Now it is a matter of listening to them and not sending our candidates who will turn them off.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.