According to Alexander (The Performance of Politics), there’s a certain amount of performance that goes into political campaigns. The goal of these performances is to achieve collective representation between political candidates and their citizen audience.
Collective representation is becoming, “a symbolic vessel filled with what citizens hold most dear” (pg. 18). Candidates must achieve strong symbolic status with their supporters as well as those who are or are not involved in civil society. Alexander stresses the importance of interaction and communication between political candidates and voters in order to be better in touch with their communities and to become symbols of those values.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in five states (Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota) where there will be a vote to decide whether to increase the minimum wage, Republican candidates tended to favor the wage increase in their home states but not at the federal level. This move may indicate candidates might be looking to connect with their home states’ values and try to appeal to their voters as symbol of prosperity and economic strength. A Quinnipiac poll this year showed that 71 percent of Americans, and 52 percent of Republicans favor increasing the minimum wage. Public opinion on wage increases, especially within candidates’ home states, would be influential in choosing a policy position on minimum wage.
When candidates were asked about the differentiation in policy preference, many candidates provided vague answers, like Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan, who opposed raising the minimum wage in January during the primary. According to The Wall Street Journal, Sullivan recently announced his support for the “state-driven initiative,” to “place a minimum wage question directly to the people of Alaska,” and said he will also be voting for the measure as a citizen himself. Sullivan was quickly criticized by opposition for not being honest with voters. His Alaskan opponent, Senator Mark Begich’s campaign accused Sullivan of “flip-flopping,” and doing anything in “an attempt deceive Alaskans,” according to The Huffington Post. Begich was leading in a poll of publicly available data created by The Huffington Post, indicating that the public may be aware of the flip-flopping that Sullivan is doing.
The Republican candidate for governor in Illinois, Bruce Rauner, is pushing a campaign to cut the minimum wage in the state – back to $7.25 an hour from the $8.25 level set in 2010. Ironically, Illinois polls indicate that more than half of the population supports an increase in minimum wage. Rauner’s campaign illustrates, to me, a collective representation that could definitely fall apart because the voters’ civil sphere is not aligning with the values that Rauner is representing.
These failed collective representations reminded me most of Alexander’s analysis of Hillary Clinton’s failed representation in her campaign. Failed representation is when a political candidate’s image collapses because the appropriate energy isn’t there. Clinton’s successes were attributed to her transforming her image into an “earthy, rough talking populist candidate,” and a “working-class hero,” as several New York Times reporters called her (pg. 33). As Alexander says, failed representation is essentially too great a distance between politicians and “the breadth and depth of the citizen audience.” Clinton’s representation failed because she couldn’t sincerely connect, or project herself as a good connector, with the values that her audience held.
In the same way that Hillary Clinton’s campaign began to fall apart because her representation was not strong enough, many candidates may find themselves disillusioned with the Republican candidates’ changing policy stances. If voters feel that their candidates are not aligned with their values, or that they are not the “symbolic vessels” of their values, they will not have successful campaigns.
The Wall Street Journal does point out, however, that only about 1% of voters on these ballots change their vote for candidates. The Performance of Politics focuses on presidential campaigns, and campaigning for congressional seats in the Senate or the House, or even as a governor, is not the same as campaigning for the presidency.
There is less of a spotlight on performance and political campaigns of congress members and state government officials because these elections tend to be more localized (i.e. North Carolinians probably hear more about the North Carolina governor or congressional members than the candidates in Wisconsin). Congressional campaigns are often less publicized because they take place more frequently – every two years instead of every four.
Statistical reports indicate that there are still large numbers of Americans who don’t know the names or faces of their representatives, which can make things like public presence and symbolic status important. However, it is interesting to hypothesize the future campaigns of the candidates in these five states in terms of Alexander’s research and see how their connections with voters will fare.
1. Alexander, Jeffrey C. “Becoming a Collective Representation.” The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 17-38. Print.
2. Epstein, Reid. “Some Republicans Back State Minimum-Wage Increases.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
3. Smith, Pat. “Release Detail.” Quinnipiac University. Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
4. Terkel, Amanda. “Alaska GOP Senate Candidate Backs State Minimum Wage Boost While Opposing Federal Increase.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
5. Anderson, Mark. “Rauner Wants to Roll Back Minimum Wage.” NBC Chicago. N.p., 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
6. Pearson, Rick, and Michelle Manchir. “Poll: Illinois Voters Back Referendum Issues.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
7. Phillips, Todd. “How Was 91% of Congress Re-Elected Despite a 10% Approval Rating?” Local Electors. N.p., 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.