The Blame Game is annoying. We'll be the first to admit that everyone bears some responsibility in electoral defeats but there is some introspection that badly needs to happen here. Nobody can improve at anything unless they are willing to take stock of the reality of the situation. Check out part 1, What the Heck Happened? here.
Let's talk about voters. Generally, I don't blame voters, but if I do, it's the ones with time, resources, education, access to information and a general understanding of the political process I blame the most. The three factors that just about guarantee you will vote are age, education and income. The higher you are on those three, the more likely you are to vote. It's also the more time you've had to vote in the past. This is why it is especially annoying when people blame young voters, especially those rolling up to the election booth for the sub-tenth time. It's a lot and nobody voted when they were young, polling back through the years shows that.
Obviously, no group is homogenous but there are some clear takeaways that can be said about certain demographics based on their voting patterns and the insane amount of political spending that got poured into the usual strategies like TV and mail, which almost exclusively targets, based on demographics, older voters.
The take machine runs hot and hard after an election but the most popular ones seem to be blaming rural voters and various marginalized voting blocks like Black, Indigenous, people of color and young folks. While, like any good take, there is some truth in them, it fails very quickly when you look at any data or have an actual conversation with a voter.
The first is rural voters. You quickly find that a huge amount of Stitt's numerical support came from suburban counties. It came from places that definitely work in and around the urban centers. Additionally, some of the highest educated and wealthiest places in our state are suburban and exurban communities. Broken Arrow has a median income and college education attainment far higher than the rest of the state. They also elect absolute nutjobs like Nathan Dahm and have some of the highest turnout districts in the state. These are your large pockets of voters who don't meet any functional definition of rural.
Let's talk about, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other POC voters. White liberals love to celebrate POC for their culture, their traditional voting support for Dems and the struggles they work to overcome. They also like to blame (or celebrate, sometimes) them when votes turnout a certain way. This is annoying and bad. White liberals are EXACTLY who MLK was warning us about in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Voters of color are also much more discerning in their vote. While white liberals tend to support Republican-lite politicians who lack platforms or issues, voters of color tend to support a more diverse slate of candidates. You can definitely see this around Oklahoma County.
Now, let's look at young voters. There are lots of POC voters in this group for demographic reasons but they remain the backbone of the Dem party, Joy's base of support in every poll and likely the only real shot Oklahoma has of changing any time soon. How did we reach out to them? Not much. Given that nearly all paid advertising was spent on TV, mostly broadcast and cable, a medium with a median age of 60+, you sure as hell weren't talking to them!
The disparity in resources spent that targeted older voters vs resources spent trying to beg, inform, cajole or organize younger voters to get to the polls may have been as high as 20-50 to 1. It will be impossible to tell but every dollar spent on TV ads is one you could have spent knocking a younger person's door begging them to roll out.
Liberals and money:
To be clear, we are using "liberal" in the pejorative sense. Liberals are the over-educated, overly technocratic, sometimes well-meaning, monied elites who routinely misread the room and then blame everyone but themselves for outcomes that go against their professed beliefs. More simply, these are the wealthy elites that the right calls "woke" but who have more in common with wealthy conservatives than anyone else.
These are the folks that have a "Love Lives Here" or "Hate Has No Home Here" sign but then will vote against a tax increase to fund amenities in urban parks because a homeless person might use the bathroom there. These people also spend a lot on political campaigns. Usually the big flashy, losing ones that get crushed by 10+ points statewide or even worse, they'll max out to candidates who lose by 20% in KY, SC, GA or FL but will donate $50 to a candidate they know personally in the metro.
All this to say, these people have lofty ideals, all the education and resources to learn about local races and push these ideals and then do the opposite when they get to the ballot box. Now, we have the data to prove it!
The down ballot voting in Oklahoma County is appalling basically every way you look at it. First, nobody ran as a super progressive leftist. We had possibly one of the best slates of thoughtful, reasonable, decent candidates we've ever had. People who met their local Dem candidate liked them and believed they would do a good job in their respective offices. On the other side, the Republican candidates, not so much. I won't go through each one but candidates ranged from elderly white men to paying for their girlfriend's abortion hypocrites to election denying Trumpers. Most ran weird to nonexistent campaigns where they coasted on incumbency or whatever passes for name ID to moderate victories. Even Stephanie Bice failed to really campaign and despite sucking up to Trump at every turn, still won Oklahoma County by 5 points. Here is one key example but many precincts follow this example.
Who did this? Rich, white liberals. Looking at detailed precinct analyses, places that are lower income and with higher density of Black and brown voters supported down ballot candidates at similar rates to the top of the ticket. You want to know who didn't? Richer, white neighborhoods and precincts. The super voters all campaigns are taught to fight over, voted for Joy/Jena/Vicki at the top and then split their ticket massively down ballot to support party line Republicans who do whatever Stitt or Trump ask of them. The most "educated'' voters in our community just voted for the very people they claim to dislike down ballot.
The Webs We Weave:
There are a lot of well meaning people in politics. Obviously, we think politics is super important. Everyone has opinions about what works and doesn't. Some make more sense than others. The one we can all agree on is shit isn't going well in Oklahoma and even nationally, we're hanging on to democracy and sanity by a thread in many cases, never mind actually fixing structural issues. Our biggest issues are rarely getting faced and the population is rapidly losing faith in our institutions ability to fix things.
The Democratic Party is a trainwreck. Basic service things, like the voter database, were either hard to access or in the worst condition I've seen them in. The level of drama was constant and at the highest levels in recent memory and Dems have had some DRAMA in the past. This take is not from the outside looking in either. Multiple conversations were had about diversifying strategies, looking at local races and working together only to have it repeatedly thrown in our face and then weird drama to arise later. There was almost no aspect of working with the party at either the state or local level that led to anything tangible. Obviously, they aren't to blame for the results as they are bit players, but they did not help anyone.
On the flip side, the candidates and campaigns on the ballot were among the best I've seen from an ego and personality standpoint. The blame for how things went is hard to place on the campaigns themselves. Funding was an issue if you weren't at the top or the darling of the liberal elite, every down ballot Dem campaign struggled. This is more structural. The Dems had pretty stellar candidates from top to bottom. Obviously, all of us could have done better but there was a sense of comradery and an attempt to work together and get folks elected. The results were disappointing.
The dark money web was of course the biggest force on the block. Since the fall of Citizens United, more and more money has flooded into the electoral process each year with varying degrees of success. I truly don't believe many of these campaigns do much in the grand scheme. Voters eventually tune it all out and the extra millions have diminishing returns. That said, they become goliaths on the campaign scene. One or two of these groups end up being larger by spending volume than every candidate campaign put together. That's a problem.
Spending $15-20M in a relatively short period, without doing the deeper issue and messaging work between elections means you often have to make simpler and cheaper messages that are less effective and disconnected from reality on the ground. As discussed previously, the right-wing lays ground work via many different channels years before candidates and campaigns start talking about it. They also utilize sticky, propaganda narratives around racial animus and fear of the other that while grotesque are incredibly effective. Dems came in during 2022 and just blasted the airwaves with this corruption message that ranged from silly, fake helicopter stories to serious ones like Stitt's COVID mismanagement. But the biggest hits, like Swadley's, while a bad story on its own, probably doesn't matter to the average voter as much as it does to political operatives interested in scoring points. Stitt's nation leading COVID death rate, draconian and deeply personal abortion bans and the relentless attacks on trans youth may have played better at getting more of the voters you needed to show up at the polls. It would have been worth at least a couple million to try some serious messaging around that.
The biggest blame for Dems in Oklahoma is turnout. We had the lowest voter turnout in the US in 2020. We had among the lowest in 2022 with Joy under performing Drew Edmondson from 2018. By virtue of math, this means Stitt, who did relatively bad compared to other statewide Republicans on the ballot (so the negative stuff had SOME impact), has one of the weakest mandates of any deep red state in the country. If voter turnout spiked by similar percentages as it did in 2020 around the rest of the nation, it is easy to see multiple paths for big change in Oklahoma.
But that is not likely if Dems cannot get a message and candidates that are able take action on it and that resonate with the people who choose to stay home. Everyone knows that voting is an emotions game. Conservatives use fear of the other, anger and despair about losing America's mythical past to get voters out. It works best when you have a media obsessed demagogue at the top but it works fairly well when you have an entire conservative apparatus scaring its voters with propaganda about crime, immigrants and CRT nonstop during the off-years.
By comparison Dems and their liberal funders are good at convincing people we have problems. Incarceration is horrendous . Mental health care is inadequate. Schools are underfunded. Policing is discriminatory. But offer no solution, candidate or campaign that will see them fixed. The popular excuse in progressive and leftist circles is that they don't actually want to fix problems but knowing quite a few liberals personally, I don't buy that. I think they want things to be better, they want things to be more fair, but have only the most inept ways of getting there and have a level of self sabotage that direly needs help. Mostly, it is the willingness to go to the same well over and over and over and expect different results.
$20M in dark money saying Stitt is bad did not work. Even the Dem strategy nationwide leaves much to be desired. Mark Kelley did better against Blake Masters who is straight up a Nazi based on the messaging of this ad. That's a low bar folks. Better, more competent fascists will come and we are not ready. We have a lot of voters we MUST convince not to fall for this, even more that we desperately need to engage in the process and we are rapidly losing time to do so.
Ultimately, the blame game has no winners. Check out our next piece, Where Do We Go From Here?
About the Author:
Nick Singer is the director of Oklahoma Progress Now. He has degrees in Math and Economics from Penn State and has been a long time political commentator and organizer.