staying on message … or not

In American campaigns, one of the primary commands for any candidate is to “stay on message.”  The idea is that the main channel of communication with the public is through the media, and you have to force the media to say exactly what you want them to say.  If you give them a choice of two topics, they will inevitably choose the wrong one as their headline.  So if you want the media to talk about your wonderful social welfare policy, you had best not talk about foreign policy at all.  Even a small digression on foreign policy gives the media an opening to make that the lead story, especially if you have already been talking about social welfare for three or four days in a row.

Taiwanese campaigns seem to put a lot less emphasis on staying on message.  Today is a perfect example.  The Ma campaign has had a pretty good week.  They handled their party list brilliantly, creating an image of caring for the disadvantaged (at the low, low cost of two party list legislators who won’t actually have much power and will serve as loyal party foot soldiers in the LY).  Ma then reinforced this yesterday with the announcement that all sorts of welfare payments would be increased.[1]  Fantastic!  We can expect today’s news to be filled with fluff stories about how much Ma and the KMT love the downtrodden.  So what are the front page headlines of the United Daily News and the China Times?  Something about Ma denying that he met with the guy organizing the underground gambling syndicate that is taking bets on the outcome of the election.  I don’t think this denial particularly helps Ma much since now voters will be thinking about Ma and this gambling ring in the same thought.  More importantly, they aren’t thinking about Ma’s wonderful social welfare policy.  And as that story shifts away from the headlines, so will any bump that the campaign was getting.

 


[1] The DPP correctly points out that this policy change is a flip flop and that the KMT is doing this for naked political purposes rather than any basic philosophical commitment to social welfare.  Sure, but that’s how most policy in Taiwan works.  The DPP proposes, and the KMT co-opts.  If it hasn’t bothered voters by now, this time probably won’t do it either.

One Response to “staying on message … or not”

  1. A-gu Says:

    Your footnote presents an excellent point I hadn’t considered.

    But Ma didn’t *deny* he met with this guy, just said he didn’t meet him at the times the Next Weekly article suggested. Quite unfortunately, that’s a very weak denial.

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