Safe Roads YES! is already running media ads . . . why aren’t their opponents?
So, about three weeks ago, Safe Roads YES! launched their radio and television ad campaign, designed to convince us that jacking up our per-person state tax-and-fee burden by roughly $248.12 – permanently (not including inflation adjustments to the wholesale fuel tax) – is a good idea. To do so, they’re using the standard tactics of bogus statistics and emotional appeals, praying that the typical low-information voter isn’t going to do even the basic homework into the legislative piece of sausage that the GoverNerd and his hodge-podge of allies are doing their damnedest to slide by us roughly six weeks from now.
And you’d think that at least one of the organizations or individuals lined up to oppose the Michigan Sales Tax Increase for Transportation Amendment would have already snagged media buys for at least one well-produced television commercial. I’ll freely admit that I don’t spend much time in front of the boob tube these days, but I can’t seem to get through even one prime-time television show (regardless of channel) without seeing at least one Pro-1 30-second spot. The reason that bugs me (both the pro-1 ad campaign and the absence of an anti-1 ad campaign) has less to do with polling, and more to do with my understanding of voter behavior.
You may recall that, about five or six weekends prior to last November’s general election, there was a significant uptick in the number of radio and television ads regarding allegedly “safe” republican congressional and legislative seats. (And by “significant uptick” I’m talking about going from nothing to damn-near-every-commercial-break, in the space of a single weekend.) Some of that was to be expected, but not to that degree, not even close. The reason for that mini-phenomenon had a great deal to do with three things: (a) the fact that the Snyder-Calley vs. Schauer-Brown and Schuette vs. Totten statewide races were polling too close for comfort; (b) the likelihood that Land vs. Peters was dragging down the rest of the ticket like a lead weight; and/or (c) the reality that the typical voter – statistically, 68.26% of the registered voter population – has a working memory of roughly three weeks.
That last point cannot be stressed enough. In our contemporary “bread and circuses” information-age society, roughly two out of every three voters couldn’t tell you much of anything about something that happened more than three weeks ago. Worse, those same voters typically have such a short attention span (eight minutes is the average length of time between television commercial breaks), that at least three full days of repeat messaging is required before a point sinks in. There is a reason that these voters require between five and eight reminders, over the course of a 12-to-15 week campaign, just to get it into their heads to show up on a specific Tuesday (which is the same reason that a Precinct Delegate who can deliver his neighborhood’s Election Day turnout is worth his weight in gold).
Forty-five days prior to an election (just over six weeks) is roughly when the absentee ballots start going out to voters. And sure enough, this past weekend, pro-1 AV-chase mailers from Safe Roads YES! were delivered to the mailboxes of every Michigan registered voter whose turnout history flags them as “routine” absentee voters (regardless of whether or not they’re “permanent” absentee voters). It’s a smart move, given that D-minus-45 days is when the ballots go from the 83 county clerks to their respective municipal clerks. Considering that, (a) outside of the highly-publicized biennial general elections, only about 15.86% of voters are even paying attention most of the time, and that (b) historically, non-November elections typically don’t crack double digits for turnout percentages, and that (c) normally, about 34% to 37% of the ballots cast in those elections are by absentee voters, the absentee ballot strategy morphed from “smart” to “frickin’ brilliant.”
See, the “routine” absentee voters (roughly 18% of the approximately 5.5 million “current and active” registered voters in this state) usually aren’t social media types. To get to them, one has to use the radio, the television, the telephone, the mailbox, and/or the front porch. These voters, who will collectively account for slightly over one-third of the total votes cast six Tuesdays from now, have been hearing one recurring message over broadcast media for the past three weeks: that even this piece of sausage is better than doing nothing. Those who are prone to prompt diligence with regard to filling out and returning both their auto-mailed ballot application and their actual ballot will read the ballot language, which is surprisingly neutral, and will probably vote based on what they’ve been hearing for the past three weeks (except for those one-in-three who’ll actually do some basic homework on the proposal).
And just like that, roughly a week from now, sealed ballots will start showing up at municipal clerks’ offices, silently tipping two-to-one in favor of permanently taking it in the wallet . . . before the polls ever open.
Denno Research ran a poll on Proposal 15-1 back in early February, the results of which were reported in the Detroit News, which is the basis for the graphic at the beginning of this article. Back on January 24th thru 27th, EPIC-MRA ran a poll, the results of which were reported on January 29th by the MLive Media Group, showing that among voters who are “very certain” to cast a ballot in May’s vox populi, “a detailed explanation of the proposal” flips the survey outcome from “support” leading-but-too-close-to-call, to “oppose” likely-and-outside-margin-of-error. Another survey report is due out at the end of this week, and I’m curious as to what it’ll say. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the GoverNerd and his hodge-podge of allies are absolutely relying on a majority of the one-in-six voters who’ll actually show up on May 5th (or who’ll have already “shown up” via their mailbox) not actually knowing what this proposal will actually do, which is why Safe Roads YES! launched their advertising campaign three weeks ago . . . to persuade the masses to approve of their own demise before they figure out what’s actually going on.
As the EPIC-MRA January survey showed, all that it’d take to swing the pendulum solidly into the “NO on 1” column is for one well-produced television commercial to air at least once an hour, on every broadcast station statewide, for the next six weeks. Couple that with one AV-chase mailer now, and one more mailer four weeks from now (to every voter whose history indicates there’s at least a 50/50 chance that they’ll actually show up), and this proposal is probably toast. The problem is that, between Keith Allard, Tom McMillin, John Yob, Scott Hagerstrom, and Paul Mitchell (who said on the record that that his group will use TV, cable, radio, and print advertising to try to defeat the tax increase, and that opposition campaigns will match the proponents dollar for dollar in campaign spending), we’ve heard pretty much squat outside of the echo chambers of tea party pep rallies. Unless that preaching to the choir is motivating them to engage their neighborhoods (which the tea parties were really good at a mere five years ago), I’m not sure how it’s doing much good.
For my part, I’m doing exactly what I spoke of in a sixty-second public comment Monday evening. I’m running for a certain city commission seat in Kentwood, and I’m already actively circulating my nominating petition (by means of canvassing random neighborhoods in the city). As I do so, I’m also circulating a printed copy of the actual ballot language of Proposal 15-1, prominently placed on my clipboard. Every voter I engage (roughly every fourth door on which I knock), whether they sign onto my nominating petition or not, I show them the actual ballot language, inform them that this is what they’re being asked to vote for or against on May 5th, and ask them if they support or oppose this proposal. The typical response has thus far been, “nope,” or words to that effect. To which I then reply, “Then remember to show up on May 5th and vote that way.”
Local resistance always works, so let’s put on some good walking shoes and start wearing out the pavement.