Koch Zero? Why Democrats are going to have a hard time enraging people about campaign finance.

Half the country has no idea who the Koch Brothers are.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Democratic Senate candidates are gambling they can turn voters against two obscure billionaire brothers who are funding attacks on them and the president’s health care law. Democrats are denouncing Charles and David Koch two of world’s richest people. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) 

To be precise, 52 percent of people said they didn't know who Charles and David Koch were in a new GW Battleground poll conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. If you combine the 52 percent of people who didn't know their names with the 11 percent of respondents who had no opinion about the duo, you get more than six in 10 Americans who are entirely unmoved/unaffected by the recent focus by Democrats on villainizing the Kochs.  (Among those who did have an opinion on the Kochs, 13 percent had a favorable opinion of the brothers while 25 percent had an unfavorable view.)

We've long believed that attacks on two relatively low-profile billionaires isn't likely to work for Democrats simply because, as this poll shows, people don't know who the Koch brothers are.  And, beyond their low name identification, the reality is that voters almost never use campaign finance or money in politics as a voting issue.  Yes, in polls people will say there is too much money in politics and that it's a bad thing. But, time and time again in actual elections they don't vote on it.  Take 2010 when, in a last-ditch attempt to change the narrative from one focused on President Obama and Obamacare, the White House and its allies insisted that the "dark" money that groups like American Crossroads were putting into the system was going to be a major issue for voters. Um, not so much.

"The basic policy and the basic approach in politics is you always want to have some red meat to feed to your base," said Goeas when asked about the Koch strategy. "I think trying to make the Koch brothers into that red meat is going to be about as effective as what we tried to do for several cycles with George Soros."

Here's Democratic consultant Thomas Mills about the villainize-the-Kochs strategy in the North Carolina Senate race:

Most voters don’t think about elections the same way political professionals or junkies do. They don’t see a great battle of ideas and ideologies playing out. Instead, they ask, “How does this affect me? Is this person going to help my bottom line, make better schools, protect my health, keep my family safe and secure? And by the way, what’s she running for again?” They don’t know the Popes or the Kochs or the Soros or the Brocks of the world.

As we've written before, the focus on the Kochs by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats is not necessarily to make the Koch brothers a household name for the casual voter. Rather, they want to make sure the Democratic activist base and the party major donors know the Kochs and what they believe/how much they are spending on the election.  If the Kochs make the base angry/passionate and opens up the checkbooks of big Democratic donors, that's a victory for Reid and his allies.

But, this poll suggests that even revving up those people might be a heavy lift for Democrats -- particularly if they are not able to use the Kochs to make a broader argument about income inequality and how the two parties aim to solve it. "When the ads veer into the process, they are going to make a mistake," said Lake. "When they talk about the substance, though, and attach that substance to the candidates and also talk about outside money, then I think it's going to be more effective."

 Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · March 25