Politico: Poll: Dems seen as party of negativity and ideas

By MARK PENN
October 18, 2010

Most things in politics are cyclical. The two parties trade power, popular support, and even politicians as regularly as the seasons.

One exception to this rule, however, is party reputation. For years, Republicans have been seen as the party of negativity—the party of innuendo and attack ads, the group with the hatchetmen on speed dial. That’s why it’s so surprising that, for the first time in recent memory, voters now perceive the Democrats as more negative than the GOP.

View the full results from Penn Schoen Berland’s poll, the fourth of six in Politico’s “Power and the People” poll series

According to the latest POLITICO poll, 34 percent of Americans think the Democrats have been the most negative party during this election cycle, vs. 23 percent who say Republicans and 15 percent who name the Tea Party. Though on the surface this looks like a pretty dubious distinction for Democratic leadership, in reality it is not such a bad thing. It says the Democratic Party has a lot of fight in it during this critical year, and is no longer willing to be taken down by tough Republican campaigns. After all, since Lee Atwater the GOP has been benefitting from campaigns that were devastatingly effective despite being highly unpopular. The Republicans were seen as the kings of negativity by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1.

What’s doubly interesting, however, is that the Democrats were also seen as the party of ideas: 31 percent of the public (and 46 percent of DC Elites) think they’ve offered better ideas for how to govern this year, whereas only 22 percent of Americans say the same about the Republicans, and the Tea Party slides in third with only 16 percent support. Somewhat paradoxically, the Democrats have managed to appear both more negative, and more idea-oriented, than their opponents at the same time.

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Mark Penn and Karen Hughes discuss the state of digital communications in politics at the 2010 BlogWorld & New Media Expo [VIDEO]

Highlight from the 2010 BlogWorld & New Media Expo keynote speech with Mark Penn and Karen Hughes discussing the state of digital communications and social media in politics.

Watch the video on the BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2010 YouTube channel

Psychology Today: A Personal Interview with Mark Penn about Getting Through Tough Times in Life and Politics

Why don’t you start by telling me some of the toughest moments you’ve been through when advising people in tough situations.

The truth is that in today’s world, there’s no success without failure. If you can’t tolerate a failure, it’s virtually impossible to have a successful life. The road to success is paved with roadblocks. Difficult moments, things that have gone wrong, attacks you didn’t expect. To be successful you have to be able to overcome and learn from failure. The moment you lose that perspective, you don’t climb back from that.

Maybe it’s easier said than done. How do you remind yourself at the toughest moment that it’s an inevitable part of success and that you just need to get through it? How do you keep a long-term view?

You’re right to say that it’s not easy—to really understand what you’re about, where you’re going. If you look at movies, almost all movies and popular culture are based on the idea of someone who’s different standing up. But in reality, being different and standing up and having a counter view is one of the hardest things to do in our society.

I try to remember that it’s not necessarily about what everybody else thinks at that moment. It’s really about, “Are you going to have the kind of strength and fortitude to carry through with what you believe in, even against the odds?” That’s what’s made me a tough competitor and a fighter that people relied upon through their difficult situations. When you find yourself in difficult situations, are you the shoemaker without shoes? You have to be able to find some of that personal fortitude.

Are you thinking of any movies in particular?

I grew up on movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Inherit the Wind that were always about standing up for what you believe regardless of the pressure. Today you can go to even kids’ movies and they are always about the bee, the penguin, or the cub who grows up by standing up.

My most successful strategies—like “soccer moms” in ‘96 for President Clinton or the Upstate Strategy for Hillary in 2000—were always opposed by just about everyone, and I can tell you that fighting for things outside the zone of conventional wisdom will always take a lot of flak, and a lot of energy to sustain.

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Charlie Rose: Mark Penn in Charlie’s Greenroom



Mark Penn talks about how he got into polling, the high and low points in his career, undiscovered trends, and the power of the internet to bring people together to create change.

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