Bringing Out the Base

24 11 2007

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to spread your message is to target your established base. Those are the people who care the most about what you are saying and the ones most likely to tell their friends.  They are also the ones who are likely to act on your message, bringing it out of the realm of pure rhetoric and into the real world.

Stephan Covey, in the Seven Habits of Hightly Effective People, refers to a similar concept when writing about the Circle of Influence. He asks readers to make a list of the things they care about enough about to expend some of our mental or emotional energy on them. That is the Circle of Concern. Within that list, he suggests making a division between the things they can change and the things they can’t. That is the Circle of Influence.   

“Proactive people focus their efforts on the Circle of Influence,” he writes. “They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging, and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.”   

Playing to the base works the same way. The more ideas are reinforced, the more relevence they accumulate. This concept is particularly true in politics. A centrist, Middle-of-the-road candidate may not offend people from either side, but he’s unlikely to inspire them either. Candidates who clearly articulate the views of their supporters have a greater chance of bringing them to the polls. The strategy worked for George W. Bush in the last two elections.

The Washington Post analyzed Bush’s strategy, as guided by his advisor Karl Rove.

Rove has argued that tending to your political base and reaching beyond it are not incompatible. He talks of raising “bold colors” on conservative issues such as tax cuts, the protection of unborn life and the appointment of originalist judges. At the same time, he has advocated policy innovations to appeal to new voters… From 2000 to 2004, this approach excited conservative enthusiasm; boosted President Bush’s support among Hispanics, Asian Americans, Catholics and women; and increased his popular vote total in his reelection bid by 23 percent.

By keeping the base firmly in his corner, Rove had no difficulty finding common ground with other demographic groups. Had he pursued the new voters without taking care of his base, he would have lost both and probably the election as well.