From Franklin Roosevelt's advice that the only thing Americans once had to fear "was fear itself," to Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" theme, to Bill Clinton's "the man from Hope," to Barack Obama's "hope and change," the overarching theme of American political campaigns has long been the triumph of hope over fear.
With that in mind, last week's Public Policy Institute of California's statewide survey of Californians offered some interesting insight as to why Republicans may have fared so poorly in this state in last month's elections. The party these days has what might be called a hope deficit.
Perhaps the most revealing question asked in the PPIC poll was one that gauged Californians' long-term views about the future of their state. Asked whether they felt California would be a better place to live in 2025 or a worse place to live, 42 percent of adults gave the optimistic answer, compared with 28 percent who said it would be a worse place. An additional 23 percent said there would be no change, and 8 percent offered no opinion.
By gender, by race and ethnicity, by region, by age group, by income category -- in every subgroup either a plurality of respondents felt better times are ahead for California or opinion was at least evenly divided. Women (44 percent), Latinos (47 percent), San Francisco Bay Area residents (45 percent), 18-34-year-olds (48 percent) and those with incomes between $40,000 and $80,000 a year (46 percent) were the most optimistic. Opinion among whites (37-37), those 55 and older (36-35) and with incomes above $80,000 (35-34) was divided.
But there was one breakdown by subgroup that showed a marked divide on the hope factor. By a 57-17 margin, Democrats felt California will be a better place a dozen years from now. Republicans, by a margin of 54-23, believe the state is headed downhill.
To some extent, these responses may reflect a chicken-or-the-egg situation. With Democrats in control of all the state's political offices and institutions, Democratic voters might naturally believe things are headed in the direction they believe is upward. The inverse is likely true among Republicans.
But no one wins elections by being dour.
As California Republicans regroup and consider a turnaround strategy that must include outreach to the minority and women voters they lost badly this fall, they might also consider taking on one other challenge. Instead of focusing so heavily on what they believe will be the inevitable negative consequences of Democratic policies, they need to begin framing their arguments on why they believe their policies will create a brighter, more hopeful future.