His laundry may not fold itself, but for political strategists Fred is still “the most interesting man alive.” (More)

Back to Work, Part I: Meet Fred, Again

This week Morning Feature will discuss getting back to work on grassroots political activism. Today we’ll review Fred, our archetypal median voter. Tomorrow we’ll revisit Fred Whispering, those vital one-to-one conversations with voters. Saturday we’ll discuss the importance of planning and working together.

“The most interesting man alive.”

Most of us have seen the Dos Equis commercials and met “the most interesting man alive.” He’s played by an actor from the Bronx, his laundry probably doesn’t fold itself, and if his is the voice you hear when you read silently, you should probably turn off the TV. In short, he’s a fictional character.

So is Fred, our archetypal median voter. But it’s worth getting to know him anyway, because for political strategists Fred is “the most interesting man alive.” By definition, his is the vote you need to win an election. Here’s the picture of the American electorate, drawn again by Fred’s young daughter, the Fredling:

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Once again the Fredling, or more likely Mrs. Fred, looked at polling data. Democrats and Republicans are nearly tied with roughly 30% of registered voters in the most recent Gallup Poll. The two blue figures on the left are liberal Democrats, about 20% of the electorate. The blue-purple figure next to them is a moderate Democrat. The three red figures on the right are conservative Republicans. The other three pink-purple figures are independents, one conservative (with the red hat) and two moderates (with purple hats).

Squarely in the middle, we find Fred.

What do we know about Fred?

In one sense, as we’ll see tomorrow, we know nothing until we have a conversation with Fred and listen to his specific concerns. But we can make some reasonable inferences based on polling data.

For example, Fred trusts government less now than he did four years ago. He’s frustrated with Congress, and thinks most should not be reelected. Fred disapproves of Republicans more than he did four years ago. But while Fred approved of Democrats four years ago, he’s now on the fence.

His views on taxes have also changed. In 2003, Fred thought the tax code was at least moderately fair. That’s no longer true. While Fred thinks he pays about the right amount for his own taxes, he thinks the wealthy don’t pay enough. In fact, he thinks the tax system is so broken that Congress needs to start over.

It’s not that Fred has turned radical. Fred is uneasy about capitalism, but he doesn’t want socialism. He thinks both “conservative” and “liberal” are good words, though he’s still unsure about “libertarian.” The word Fred likes best is “progressive,” and that offers us a good starting point in conversation.

A people person

Fred may watch the evening news during dinner, but he doesn’t watch much cable news unless they’re covering a breaking event. He may scan headlines if he sees a newspaper or when he goes online, but he gets most of his news from the people he talks to at work and in his community. Some of that is them talking about what they saw on TV, heard on the radio, or read in a newspaper or online. Mostly, though, Fred’s news is what’s going on in the lives of people he knows, because Fred is a people person.

That does not make Fred a “low information voter.” In terms of being in touch with his community, Fred’s news is as good as or better than than what he’d get from the media. It’s anecdotal, but that’s okay with Fred because he’s not a systems-and-statistics kind of guy. He takes life one day at a time, one person at a time, and one problem at a time. On the one hand, that means he’s pretty grounded; he knew there was something wrong with the economy long before the media were thinking of using the word “recession,” because he saw it happening in the lives of people he knows.

On the other hand, Fred doesn’t have a unifying political theory. He’d like to feel more secure in his job and his home, and he’d like to people happier than they have been for the past few years. He’d like government to help where it can, or at least not make things worse, but lately he hasn’t seen much to like from government. Because Fred is a people person who takes life one day, one person, and one problem at a time – based mostly on personal anecdotes from his own life and the lives of people he knows – he’s what George Lakoff calls biconceptual: progressive on some issues, conservative on others, often depending on how the issue is discussed. His core values are mostly progressive values, but he doesn’t trust government enough to be a reliably progressive voter.

We need Fred

To win in 2012, we progressive Democrats must convince Fred to vote for us. The Fredling’s drawing may be crude, but it depicts American voters pretty well according to the data. To push our politics more progressive, we must convince Fred that government can make things better or at least not make things worse, and convince him – one issue at a time – that progressive policies will better help Fred, Mrs. Fred, the Fredling, and the people he knows.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to have productive conservations with voters like Fred, and convince him that Democrats offer better, more practical solutions.

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Happy Thursday!