This article from Rolling Stone describes yet another “post mortem” on the Republican Party’s defeat in last year’s presidential election, this one focusing on how younger voters perceive the GOP. It’s not pretty: when asked to describe what they thought of when they heard the term “Republican Party,” many survey participants said “closed-minded,” “racist,” “rigid,” and “old-fashioned.”
According to media coverage, the GOP’s efforts to figure out what went wrong last November fall into several broad camps: those who think the party was not right-wing enough, those who think the party is too right-wing, and those who think it’s just a “branding” problem. That is, if the party could just figure out how to say the same things in a nicer way, its problems would be solved.
This last view misunderstands what a brand is, however. A brand is not just your messaging or the “spin” you put on issues. A brand is the totality of a consumer’s awareness, perceptions, and experience with your product or service. Consumers are very good at figuring out when a company’s messaging, for example, is inconsistent with their other perceptions and experiences. The party can talk all it wants about supporting women, but when it fights healthcare or equal pay for equal work and has leading members talking about “legitimate rape,” savvy voters notice the difference.
This is not intended to be a criticism of Republican political positions. The GOP is entitled to advocate any policies it wants. But the party is doing itself a disservice if it thinks that the only thing it needs to change to attract younger voters is to improve its messaging. That thought alone is insulting to voters.