Will Bunnett

Politics • Branding • Psychology

Is the Democratic Party’s Brand the One in Trouble?

Since the Republicans got smoked in the 2012 elections (at least in the races for the Senate and presidency), much has been made of the decline of the Republican brand, the structural and demographic holes the party is digging itself, the Republican National Committee’s re-branding study, etc. But noted Democratic strategist (and one-time adviser to President Clinton) Doug Sosnik came along last week to sound the alarm: the Democratic Party brand may be sinking, too.

Sosnik cites a variety of evidence to back up his claim that the Democratic brand is declining, but it mostly boils down to this: the party’s fortunes are not as high today as they were in 2008:

Since Obama was elected President, the Democrats have lost nine governorships, 56 members of the House and two Senate seats. During his presidency, the party’s favorability has declined 15 points….

According to Pew polling from last year, 45% of Millennials self-identify as Independents, which is a six-point jump since 2008, and 31% self-identify as Democrats, which represents a four-point drop since 2008.

But what if 2008 just isn’t that great a baseline for measuring Democratic support? Check out the party identification trend line over the last ten years. While the Republican brand has been in more or less continuous decline over this period, the Democratic brand has held pretty steady — except for one giant blip, the outlier year of 2008, when their brand temporarily soared.

Is the Democratic Party's decline since 2008 a nosedive or a regression to the mean?

Is the Democratic Party’s decline since 2008 a nosedive or a regression to the mean? (Source: Pew)

Sosnik puts a lot of the blame for the Democratic decline he sees since 2008 on President Obama. I agree that there are some things, both from a political perspective and a policy perspective, Obama could have done to better support Democratic candidates and the Democratic brand. But just because he rode a wave into office doesn’t mean he’s taken a nose dive since it subsided.

And some of the critiques Sosnik makes of the Democratic brand seem like outright strengths to me:

8) Asian American Support for Democrats in Recent Elections Exceeds Their Party Identification: Despite voting overwhelmingly for Obama in the past two elections – with their support topping 73% in 2012 — a 2012 Pew poll found that only 50% of Asian voters self-identify as Democrats.

OK, more core support would be better. But if your party is out-performing its core support, that wouldn’t set off the biggest alarm bells in my head for the health of the party brand.

Ultimately, Sosnik may be right that the Democratic Party’s brand isn’t as strong as it could be, but this piece doesn’t make that case effectively. And Sosnik is undoubtedly right that the president is the person with the single most powerful impact on the Democratic brand — but I’ll have to get into who controls party brands and how another time.

Update: I got into who controls party brands and how: http://willbunnett.com/how-political-brands-are-made/

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