Monthly Archives: July 2008

take them seriously

Joe Garofoli in the San Francisco Chronicle and Jeff Brady on NPR’s All Things Considered both recently quoted me on whether funny advertisements and web-based games are smart ways for campaigns to mobilize young voters.

I am not aware of research or public data that would allow us to compare the effectiveness of a sarcastic or silly ad versus a serious and information-rich one. Nor have I seen evaluations of games that are designed to promote voting, whether the games are silly and parodic or challenging and educational. (The campaigns may have tested games and various broadcast messages, but they never share the data from such experiments.)

My hunch is that anyone who tries a very light approach is making a mistake. Remember that less than half of the youth population will vote. Heavily represented in that group are young people who are seriously concerned about issues, from their own economic prospects to the future of the planet. Voting is not much fun, but it is rewarding if one feels one can make a real difference by casting a ballot. Potential voters are likely to be people who believe they can make a difference, or at least are open to the argument that the election is important. This is true of all citizens, but young people are especially likely to say that they need more information and explanation before they can vote. Often, in focus groups and polls, they say that the main reason they may not vote is that they feel inadequately informed to make such a serious choice. Thus I suspect that an information-rich, explanatory ad or game could be very effective. But a jokey approach is likely to make young people feel that the election is unimportant (thus lowering turnout), or may offend them by patronizing them.

This doesn’t rule out some use of humor and amusement in various media. But one should always take the audience seriously.

it’s a tough job …

… but someone has to hold up the balconies and lintels of Prague. One of these is 600 years old, one is a Communist, one is grotesque (in the original sense of the word), and several are magnificent Baroque specimens from 1648-1720.

This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Prague caryatids. Make your own badge here.

(To view this as a slideshow–my preference–click this link.)

a road not (yet) taken?

Michael Calderone of Politico reports that the McCain campaign tried to hire an AP reporter and editor, Ron Fournier, as a senior adviser. Fournier has been criticized by liberals for being allegedly too personally friendly with McCain and also Karl Rove. But Mark Salter, who works for McCain, said “that Fournier was an attractive target because of his knowledge about the political process, not because of his ideological or partisan leanings. Salter says he still does not know what, if any, those are.”

Here’s another theory. Ron Fournier has some interesting and explicit ideological leanings, but they aren’t conventionally liberal or conservative. They are populist in a particular way: enthusiastic about local self-government, deliberation, and public participation. I say this because of an opinion piece that Fournier wrote, based on a survey that I helped to design and analyze for the National Conference on Citizenship. He wrote:

    It happens every election year: Pollsters slice and dice the electorate, identify an important new group and give those voters a fad-worthy monicker. Reagan Democrats. Angry Men. Soccer Moms.

    Here’s a heads-up on what should be the dynamite demographic of 2008: “The Civic Core.”

    That’s the name given to 36 million Americans who actively discuss society’s problems and work to solve them. These community-building citizens are both a key to the nation’s future and a valuable resource for political candidates.

    And yet, with few exceptions, Democrats and Republicans alike are giving the Civic Core — and community service itself — short shrift.

    … Microtarget that.

John McCain could make an interesting appeal to this civic core. He has a lifetime record of service and leadership and could broaden those ideas by explaining how ordinary civilians can also lead and serve at home. He could criticize arrogant bureaucrats and judges (conservative targets) but also strongly support programs that expand opportunities for civic work–charter schools, voluntary national service programs, the Peace Corps, and community development corporations. I haven’t seen him do any of this yet–at least, not effectively–but it may explain why he was interested in Fournier.

to Prague

Having just landed in Belmont, Massachusetts, with our bags and boxes hardly unpacked, my family and I are off to Prague and other parts of the Czech Republic tomorrow morning. I will be treating my Internet addiction by not going online to check the latest polls or to post anything here. I think I will be able to stay disconnected, because apparently “Places remote enough are in Bohemia” [Winter’s Tale, III:3]. Back on July 30.

get thee to a nunnery

We bought our new house in Belmont, MA, yesterday. For the two weeks before that, my family had remained in Washington while I lived in a Tufts University dorm room. Colleagues seem surprised and amused that I, gray and 41, should choose to live in a dorm. I thought it made practical sense: no commute, no shopping, no cooking. Of course, I could have had floor-mates who were a little more–shall we say?–lively late at night than I am used to in my staid middle age. At first, however, there was no one else on my floor–just rows of open doors and swept-out rooms that reminded me a little of “The Shining.” Then the doors were all closed and there were subtle signs of human habitation. The bathroom light, for instance, would be on in the middle of the night, when I had definitely switched it off before going to sleep. But no sounds. Who else could be living on the third floor of South Hall?

I found out one evening when I shared the elevator with a dozen Spanish-speaking nuns. A half-a-dozen more couldn’t fit on and had to wait for the next one. They wore gray habits and none was taller than my shoulder. They were so quiet and tidy that I can truly say: when it comes to floormates, better nun than none.