By Greg Salsbury
STARRS Board of Advisors
Republicans are invariably frustrated that facts don’t move the dial in elections. No matter how bad Democrats are, nothing changes. The reason is simple: Democrats associate “blue” with all good things.
One of the most powerful persuasive techniques in existence is simple association. Want to sell more Aqua Velva? Show a gorgeous woman caressing a freshly shaved handsome man. Two simple associations there—men who use Aqua Velva are handsome like this guy; and men who use Aqua Velva attract beautiful, affectionate women like this one. Want to sell more Hyundais? Show beautiful, hip, smiling, and clearly successful people driving them. Multiple positive associations there.
In the 1950s, Philip Morris was trying to sell more filtered cigarettes but found that men were resistant, viewing them as feminine. The solution was one of the most successful and longest-running ad campaigns in history—the Marlboro Man, a cowboy with a face like rawhide, staring wisely and wistfully over the open plain, representing the epitome of the rugged, masculine, heroic, independent, adventurous, and free man. Want to be more like him? Smoke Marlboros.
Much of the power of simple association stems from the complete bypassing of facts, logic, and education. In his best-seller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explains that part of why too many young people remain stubbornly attracted to smoking, despite decades and hundreds of millions of dollars of educational campaigns, is that Hollywood and other key influencers continue to portray heroic and “cool” counter-culture characters as smokers (think of the iconic James Dean photo from “Rebel Without a Cause,” but modernized a thousand times over).
Conservatives would do well to understand that this same dynamic is playing out with many Democrat voters. In his interview with Fox News, former San Francisco mayoral candidate and analyst Richard Greenberg was asked about new polls showing President Biden’s underwater approval ratings even in California and whether this means a Republican could finally win there.
His answer: Doubtful. He explained that, despite Biden’s sinking polls and despite years of deteriorating conditions under Democrat leadership, many Californians—mostly Democrats—simply will not vote for a Republican. He explains this with a commonly expressed philosophy of this voting block: “Always vote blue, no matter who.”
In a nutshell, that slogan/explanation provides the answer that has confounded so many observers over the years.
They have puzzled over why California Democrat voters seem impervious to things like soaring homelessness, poverty, crime, taxes, and cost of living, a shrinking quality of life and population for the first time on record, the second worst public school system in the nation, massive unmet infrastructure needs now hovering near $1T, state debt also measured in $Trillions, all topped with the leadership hypocrisy of things like maskless French Laundry dinners during mandated lockdowns.
Not only did Governor Newsom survive the recall vote, he did so with a whopping 62% of voters supporting him. Many reasonable people scratch their heads and ask, “How does any logical person vote for more of this?” What those people don’t understand is that logic is not in play. Simple association is. Blue = Always. Red = Never.
Republicans should wake up and take note of this dynamic—specifically, by acknowledging that Democrats have successfully used it for decades, especially on college campuses.
While liberal and left-leaning university faculty have historically been overrepresented as compared to conservatives, that trend has been in overdrive in recent years.
At the Ivies, it is even worse—with less than 2% of Harvard faculty, for example, identifying as conservative, and over 82% identifying as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Perhaps more telling of the lopsided campus environment than polls is where faculty put their money—with only 4% of universities’ faculty making political donations to Republicans.
In his 2017 work, “Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, points out that, as significant as this rising imbalance of left versus right faculty may be, it is not as powerful as the things missing from campuses:
The courses not offered, the professors not appointed, the speakers not invited, the student clubs that are not formed: the nots are the real key to campus bias, especially because they are usually invisible to the students.” He concludes “. . . no, conservative fears of campus indoctrination are not overblown. … [T]aken all in all, contemporary American higher education does indoctrinate students in progressive ideology. And it does it so well that most of the graduates don’t even realize it.
In this way, the positive things put before the students to study, emulate, and involve themselves in—the courses themselves, key theories, leaders, speakers, books, role models, projects, etc.—are overwhelmingly left-leaning.
Conversely, right-leaning people and ideas, if even present, are put before them as things to eschew, condemn, and oppose.
The left/right associations are simple, powerful, and all-encompassing for four years or more. Relatively new and mushrooming DEI staff and related student and faculty committees help ensure the bubble’s integrity.
The bubble allows for increasingly fewer alternative views. In the most comprehensive free speech study yet conducted, FIRE found that fully 60% of students reported feeling that they could not express an opinion because of how students, a professor, or their administration would respond, especially the 73% of students identifying as “strong Republicans.”
This indoctrination process not only pushes left-leaning thinking while censoring or condemning conservative positions. Significantly, it promotes reflexive belief more than critical thinking—a belief built from simple association: Blue = Good; Red = Bad.
Those with the “always blue” mindset believe this dictum as they believe in gravity. This extends beyond mere certainty about a proposition. It means that they need no evidence to support the belief. To them, it is something that has always been and always will be true.
So, what should Republicans take from this? Most importantly, when they create messages aimed at Democrats, especially to convert them, those efforts are wasted. Sure, you see some exceptions among particularly bright people (e.g., Thomas Sowell, Andrew Breitbart, or Ronald Reagan) but, in general, it is a relatively rare occurrence.
A blue candidate may have been undeniably caught in lies, corruption, and blunders. He may demonstrate hypocrisy on a grand scale—engaging in the very behavior he has criticized, maybe even campaigned against. He may appear lost and incoherent, stumbling, mumbling, or shouting at virtually every public appearance. He may have committed illegal, even treasonous, acts, such as taking bribes or weaponizing multiple governmental agencies against opponents and citizens. He may have demonstrated a track record of failure in every major area of concern to voters—the economy, foreign policy, national security and immigration, energy policy, etc.
And yet, many “always blue” Democrats will still vote for him.
How large is that number? Apparently, far larger than Republicans understood. The concept of “Always vote blue, no matter who” has been programmed into tens of millions of voters. California may be the most prominent showcase for the dynamic, but it is not isolated to that state.
Republicans must understand that there are no magic facts or talking points, no silver bullet arguments, no game-changing photographic or videographic evidence that will suddenly open the eyes of most Democrats. Gravity still exists, and so does the “always blue” mindset. Republicans need to forget conversion and focus on the base and independents—exclusively.