Quick: what’s a six-letter word that if you use over and over, might just win you the most important elected office in the free world?
That magic word is … change. Give yourself a gold star if you guessed correctly. It is the word that is on the lips of every major presidential candidate this election year. Whether they’ve been in office for decades, or around politics only a short time, would-be office holders are saying they will be agents of change at an alarming rate.
Can they really bring about major change in a system that has been largely unchanged for the past 200 years? Probably not. Why, then, is every candidate saying they can, and attempting to sell that message to the voters? Would they blatantly lie to people just to get their support?
The candidates promoting an agenda of change are not necessarily lying and really do want to do things differently than the current administration. However, there is another reason they are talking about change: pure political strategy.
It is well known by campaign operatives that when people are comfortable, happy and satisfied with their lot in life, they don’t feel all that motivated to get out and vote. Why would they? When things are going fine, then the status quo is a lot more attractive.
In order to motivate voters to get up off the couch and go to the polls, you have to make them believe that things are bad, that our government is off track and that their jobs or livelihoods may be in trouble.
When politicians talk about change, they are trying to convince voters that the current administration, or in some cases their opponent, is performing badly and needs to be thrown out. That is truly the only way to motivate a voting block to get to the polls.
Barack Obama used this message brilliantly in the Iowa Caucuses, making voters believe that he was the candidate best suited to fix their troubles and restore the United States to greatness. He did such a fantastic job, even Hillary Clinton had to start talking about change, even though her campaign message has been based on experience.
The change dynamic has worked so well, you are definitely going to see other candidates using it this election cycle, from those running for dog catcher to the highest-profile races on the ballot. If you can convince the electorate that the system is broken, and you are the best mechanic to fix it and save them money, then in this environment, you win.
The only real problem with this kind of mentality is that often, when these agents of change get to public office, because they have little experience they are just unable to successfully navigate a system that is not set up for outsiders. They are often marginalized by the more experienced pros and end up failing to accomplish any of their agenda.
If they manage to survive their first term, you will see them running on a platform of vast experience in the following election, while the next person claiming to fight for change tries to unseat them. It’s a vicious cycle that has been repeated since the first contested elections.