The Note: Manhattan, U.S.A


The two presidents -- possessed of radically different world views -- are both in Manhattan for several days this week, but they have no plans to meet. Still, as they both hold bilateral sessions with various other world leaders, they will surely keep a close watch on one another.

We speak, of course, of President Bush and former President Clinton.

Like day is followed by night, every election year, the 9/11 anniversary (during which the press obsesses on President Bush's ability to "keep the focus" on national security right before Election Day, to the benefit of his Daddy Party) is followed by the UNGA, keyNoted by the POTUS's tough-love speech (during which the press obsesses on President Bush's ability to "keep the focus" on national security right before Election Day, to the benefit of his Daddy Party).

Democrats, afraid of the more-organized-than-all-of-them-except-Steve-Rosenthal-and-Michael-Whouley-actually-realize Republican turnout machine, are comforting themselves with the Notion that this is the last week before November during which the President can "keep the focus" on the war on terror.

This cold comfort might be misguided for three reasons. First, do not underestimate the White House's ability to find week-by-week reasons to raise other national security bogeymen.

Second, do not underestimate the White House's ability to (a) smash the glass jaws of inexperienced Democratic candidates; (b) use taxestaxestaxes; and (c) microtarget social issues galore.

And, three, digest these two must-read stories that suggest that (i) "we are in the struggle to preserve civilization as we know it" might pack more of an emotional wallop than "Together, America can do better to change." And (ii) it is possible that the last few weeks have baked-into-the-cakes of voters' minds that this election is about who will keep America safer.

1. The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam, writing in a different context, says, "George E. Marcus, president of the International Society of Political Psychology, said modern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don't have much effect. Voters, he explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention." LINK

"The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons -- and partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising -- but it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas. Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle level.. . . " "It is comparatively difficult to persuade anyone to change their mind on an issue. What works much better, because it influences people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a different issue -- the one where the candidate is the strongest."

"'The agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about,' said Nicholas A. Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. 'The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel about an issue, but which issue they should focus on -- that is the struggle of most modern campaign managers.'"

"'Campaigns have been much more successful at shifting people's attentions to different issues rather than shifting people's positions,' he added."

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