While Democrats like me are pontificating about why Democrats lost and what they need to do to win in the future, Republicans have their own ideas about what happened. Democrats would be wise to listen.
In North Carolina, the GOP says, Democrats made three major mistakes. They ran misleading ads on three issues central to their message and got called on it. In essence, Republicans believe that Democrats lost credibility with the voters and the internet, as much as the Republican counter ads, drove the point home.
Last summer, Democrats began saying that Republicans, and Thom Tillis in particular, cut education by $500 million. The GOP says that wasn’t true and the fact checkers both in the North Carolina and nationally said the charge was at least partially false. As early as June, Politifact rated it half true and fact checks all the way into October found the same thing.
The GOP also says Democrats misled the public on the coal ash spill by saying Republicans would pass the cost on to rate payers instead of shareholders. Mark Binker at WRAL found the claims to be dubious at best and outright false in one instance. Time Warner even pulled one ad from the air.
Finally, Republicans say Democrats’ claim that the GOP raised taxes on 80% of North Carolinians was false. They say that workers had to look no further than their paychecks to see that wasn’t true. Again, both local and national fact checkers found the claim to be untrue.
Democrats obviously didn’t care much what the fact checkers said. They kept running the ads with the same messages despite the findings of the news organizations. They probably assumed that only political junkies were reading the fact checkers and that it was more food for twitter than the general public.
Republicans, however, think something different transpired. They believe that when swing voters started tuning into the election in mid to late October, they went to the internet, not the ads, to get their information. When they checked on the Democrats’ central messages, they found that independent news organizations said they were false or, at least, misleading.
This theory jibes with the changing manner in which people are gathering and consuming information. In the Walmart Moms focus group in Charlotte in mid October, a group of mainly undecided women voters knew very little about either Thom Tillis or Kay Hagan despite almost $100 million in ads. Several women said they would go online to learn more about the candidates before they voted.
Pollster Neil Newhouse, who conducts the Walmart Moms focus groups, jokingly tweeted that the women would “crash Google” trying to figure out for whom to vote. However, Republicans in North Carolina believe that’s what happened. They may be right and, if they weren’t, they almost certainly will be in the near future.
At a panel discussion at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy this weekend, journalists Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Brian Stelter of CNN and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com agreed that more people are getting their political information from the web than from traditional sources of media. While television may still be the dominant vehicle for delivering political ads, the internet is the tool for quickly and easily assessing their veracity. The fact check that used to be a one-day blurb in the print edition of a newspaper is now a permanent fixture on Google and other search engines.
Republicans in North Carolina believe that information readily available on the internet delivered a solid blow to Democrats who seemed to be leading up until the final week or so of the election. Democrats might not agree, but the Republican premise is certainly plausible. Whether the GOP is right or not, both parties need to better understand the power of the internet and how easy access to information is changing voters’ behavior and the political landscape.