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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Platform Survey Rebukes Silence and Length

The results of the PlatCom Chair Alicia Mattson's Platform survey are in. LP radicals are complaining the questions were slanted, but in fact the results rebuke reformer advocates of the "short A/B" style of platform as well as radicals and their 2004 Squyres-format platform. Here are the results (from likely delegates) compared to my predictions:

1. Market to voters, not guide our candidates
rebukes radicals
2. Educate the public, not appeal to our sympathizers
might get more, but close
rebukes short A/B
3. Short platform on fewer issues, not longer on more
probably get more
rebukes 2004
4. Emphasize benefits over complaints
will win handily
5. Emphasize benefits over moral justifications
should edge
rebukes radicals
6. Clean slate, not amend existing language
should get a majority
rebukes 2004
7. Silence on schisms, or compromise langauge
will probably win
8. Little to no implementation detail, not comprehensive detail
will win convincingly
supports Pure Principles
9. Emphasize topics appealing to voters, not internal constituencies
will win due to phrasing
10. Emphasize direction (next few years) over destination
eke out a majority
rebukes radicals
11. State our positions even if most voters disagree
will be close
rebukes short A/B

The two questions where my predictions were least accurate (2 and 11) showed that I had somewhat over-estimated the potential appeal of a top-N-issues Short A/B style of platform. The survey generally confirms that likely delegates want a platform that neither hides our principles nor buries them under implementation details.

In Alicia's survey, questions 3, 6, 8, and maybe 10 can be taken as a referendum on the 2004 "Atlanta" format. The vote against the Atlanta style by respondents who are likely delegates was (respectively) 71%, 59%, 77%, and 62%. I predicted that #8 would win "convincingly" while the other three would get majorities, but I was still surprised at how lop-sided these results were. To me the crucial question was 8, in which 77% of likely delegates chose "little to no implementation detail" over "comprehensive details". The only criticism of the Pure Principles draft from serious radicals like David Nolan, Henry Haller, and Starchild (who all otherwise praise it) is that it's short on implementation detail. Alicia's survey shows that this criticism is not a deal-breaker, and in fact helps the draft's chances.

The survey was obviously not designed to support the reformers' Pure Principles draft, and only question 8 can be considered a referendum on the Pure Principles approach. Questions 3/6/10 were aimed squarely at the Atlanta format, which failed miserably on each of them. Questions 4 and 9 were inconsequential softball questions, as almost nobody was going to favor a negative Platform or a focus on internal constiuencies. The even split on question 7 (silence vs. compromise language) is meaningless because it doesn't reveal how few people support the Platform taking a stand against the LP's minority views. Question 1 fairly rebuffed the radicals' idea that the Platform should not be about internal candidate guidance, but if question 11 was rigged then it backfired, showing that we should embrace libertarian positions even if mainstream voters don't. Question 2 could be seen as similarly backfiring, since it rejects the idea (inherent in the old LRC Short A/B platforms) that we should cherry-pick areas of agreement with mainstream voters. Question 5 was a fair referendum on moralistic vs. utilitarian outreach, and the radicals' position lost convincingly 68 to 32.

In the end, the survey did a fair job of discrediting

  • the Atlanta style of detailed Platform,
  • the radical ideas of internal education and emphasizing morality over utility, and
  • the reformer idea of cherry-picking issues with mainstream support.
The survey confirmed the potential support for the Pure Principles approach, and suggested that its real problem might be not its lack of implementation detail, but rather its lack of marketing and vouching for the benefits of our positions. However, it's easy to make the case that marketing is the job of our candidates, and that making empirical arguments for the prospective benefits of our principles is the job of both candidates and white papers.

Again, the job of the Platform is to proclaim what our principles mean across the spectrum of policy issues. Its purpose is not to be a marketing brochure or a concatenation of policy white papers. We already have plenty of both. Writing "LP Platform" on the cover of any of them is no magic bullet.

1 comment:

Starchild said...

I'd like to see the full details -- how many surveys were received? Who submitted them? Which respondants are planning to attend the LP national convention in Denver? This information should be disclosed to all LP members, especially since the survey was sent out on party letterhead.

Given the fact that the insider-appointed platform committee, including its chair, are "reformers," I am *not* just going to accept claims that the results of a survey which subtly promotes their views in various ways "rebukes" those who want the LP to stand by a principled radical pro-freedom message.