There is no substitute for going door-to-door and talking with the voters if you want to find out how people feel, so that's what I did yesterday. With a primary election coming up in ten days, I was trying to drum up support for a candidate. What I learned was surprising.
Over the past several years when I have done similar canvassing, I have run across a high percentage of agitated, angry people who were quick to complain about the government or the political parties or particular politicians. When I was going door-to-door a few months back to gather signatures on petitions, it seemed like I was met by people at nearly every other house who were angry and frightened because they or someone close to them had just lost their job. In previous years, people would bend my ear telling me about the terrible things that the government was doing. But not this time.
This time, there was almost no anger. People seemed satisfied with the way the country was being run and the way their lives were going. They listened to my pitch and when I asked them what issues they were concerned about or what questions I could answer about my candidate's positions, they not only didn't have much to say, they were polite and they smiled at me. No one shouted at me to go away.
Of course, I was only walking in one neighborhood, and it was only one day, and for a lot of other reasons, I may not have gotten an accurate idea of the mood of the electorate. But to the extent that I did, it could be very good news for President Obama. If people are happy, they will probably reelect him. On the other hand, they will probably reelect almost all incumbents, too, and that means Obama will still be saddled with a Congress that won't let him get anything done. That's the bad news.
If people really are no longer steaming mad about what the politicians are doing, it also means they probably won't even bother to come out and vote. This will give an advantage to candidates who are able to turn out voters who are strongly committed to them, and a disadvantage to other candidates who don't have that capability. It will also give an advantage to candidates with an upbeat message and a delivery that matches the voters' moods. The candidates who will have the most trouble are those who planned their campaigns months ago when people were angry, unless those candidates can re-tune their campaigns. Candidates with a narrow repertoire will also have trouble.
Of course, the electorate is fickle and conditions change, so by the time the November general election comes around, the voters may be mad again. Candidates will have to keep taking the pulse of the voters and adjusting their campaigns to meet the voters' needs.
This isn't to say that candidates will need to flip-flop on the issues. Quite the contrary. The candidates who will succeed are those who will remain consistent in their core beliefs and who will be able to demonstrate that their positions are relevant in changing circumstances. Those candidates will be perceived as having solid values, an understanding of the issues, and strength. The politicians who will fail are those who either are incapable of changing, or who are so quick to change direction that they will be seen as going whichever way the wind blows.
It won't be easy for the candidates, but it shouldn't be. They should have to be responsive to the moods and needs of the voters. But on the other hand, it won't be that hard, either. All the candidates will need to do is make sure they are listening to the voters.