In order to win elections this November, Democrats need to have more face-to-face experience talking to America’s working class citizens, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis said Wednesday night in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.
Speaking before a packed crowd at the first Yale Political Union debate of the semester, Dukakis said that while many Democrats have sound platforms — such as opposition to the Iraq war and support for abortion rights — their campaigns in middle-class neighborhoods are too impersonal and center on phone and Internet canvassing. While most conservative YPU members disagreed with Dukakis, arguing instead that the fundamental values of Democratic platforms are flawed, the progressive parties agreed with Dukakis’ support for grassroots campaigning.
“Politics is a year-long vocation,” Dukakis said. “It has to be engaging.”
There is a disconnect today between both political parties and their voters, Dukakis said. He said both parties are more concerned with media tactics than communicating their values to the public.
“TV news these days doesn’t cover news and public affairs correctly,” Dukakis said. “Most Americans don’t connect with the political system.”
Dukakis said he thinks Democrats would be best served by a grassroots campaign strategy that sends them door-to-door in all 50 states. He said grassroots campaigning is shown to be an effective way of increasing voter turnout by 8-10 percentage points and is most effective if it begins at least a year before an election. Internet communication for planning events, posting schedules and transferring ideas within the Democratic party must also be more cohesive, Dukakis said.
Students who attended the YPU debate had mixed responses to Dukakis’ advocacy of grassroots campaigning.
“There was a good exchange of ideas today,” audience member Adam Goodrum ’10 said. “This debate solidified my support of Democratic ideals and the future hope of the Democratic Party’s success in campaigning.”
Most students in the Liberal Party, Progressive Party and Party of the Left said they agreed with Dukakis’ point that the Democrats need a more personal campaign style. But students in the Tory Party, Conservative Party and Party of the Right said Dukakis’ argument did not address the main issue — whether or not the Democrats are losing because of their values.
“It’s hard not to agree with the fundamental politics, but if both parties don’t have effective means of social engagement with their voters, why is it then that more Republicans are winning?” Tory Party member Henry Greene ’08 said.
The YPU meeting ended in a 48-44 vote resolving that Democrats are not losing because of their ideals.