I’ve referenced this in the past, but given that the general election is coming up, I thought I would dedicate a whole post to talking about the glossy mailer rule. For long-time readers, this may be kind of a deja vu post, for which I apologise!
Basically, politics in the United States is fueled, dictated, and governed by money. This means that, when looking at how political action happens, it’s critical to follow the money. As a general rule, the people in power have the most money, and they want to retain their money, which means that money gets poured into maintaining the status quo. The more money is poured into an initiative, political issues, or candidate, the less likely it is to be progressive. If money is supporting a candidate or issue, it’s a safe bet that people in marginalised classes in the United States will not benefit from having that candidate or issue win at the polls. Likewise, if a lot of money gets sunk into opposing something, it’s a clue that someone in power doesn’t want it to happen, which means I probably do want it to happen.
There isn’t always a one to one correspondence, but it’s usually very close. Money and power tend to cozy up together and when you find one or the other around something, it is an indicator that whatever you are looking at is of interest to people who want to retain power, control, and dominance. Not always, but often.
Hence, the glossy mailer rule. One of the areas where it’s really easy to see how much money is spent is in your own mailbox. Every year, when I start getting election mailings, I keep track of the mail I get. I note who it comes from and I take note of the print quality; is it a xeroxed newsletter from a community group? Is it a slick, four colour brochure from the Democrats? And so forth. And I keep a tally of what I get, an ongoing list. As the election gets closer, I pull my list out and say ‘where is the money going?’ Where is the money pushing me to vote, in this particular election? What are the people in power telling me they want me to do?
I look up the organisations sending me things in the mail. I see who backs them, I read their mission statements, I try to get a handle on their political agenda. But, often, the glossy mailer is the biggest clue. The slicker the mail, the more likely I am to be opposed to an organisation’s cause. If I am getting a bunch of mail telling me to support something or a candidate, it’s usually a sign I should vote in opposition. Conversely, if I get an avalanche of mail informing me that something is absolutely awful and I should vote against it, I usually end up voting for it.
I also, of course, actually research the candidates and issues directly and I take notes as I research, often generating a list of questions I need to answer before I decide how I want to vote. There are a lot of resources for researching candidates and initiatives, ranging from looking at recommendations from organisations I trust to doing the legwork myself, and it usually takes me a few days of focused work to do it.
But, I notice that the results of my actual research and my glossy mailer rule of thumb are often in close alignment. I’m not going to mindlessly vote for/against something on the basis of the mailers I get, but they definitely help if I’m on the fence about something. Here in California, where we often vote on initiatives and the language is very confusing, sometimes I have a tough time understanding what, exactly, I am voting on. Having a tide of things trying to convince me one way or the other is a helpful clue about the undercurrents behind something; if there’s, say, an energy initiative backed by PG&E and a bunch of other utilities, I know it’s probably not something I want to vote for, because it’s probably not something that is going to lower prices, improve infrastructure, or contribute to the development of alternative energy.
I don’t have very much exposure to video campaign advertising because I don’t have a television, but I imagine this rule could easily be applied there as well. Look at production values, the length of the spot, the placement of the spot, and who is paying for it. Follow the money. A slick one minute spot during primetime has a lot of money behind it, and that means it’s probably not something in your interests, unless you are a rich person trying to stay rich. A short spot on off-peak hours with dismal production values, on the other hand, is something people scrimped and saved to produce, which means they might just be your kind of people.
And, if you are a busy voter and you don’t have a lot of time for research, you can apply the glossy mailer rule more directly. Run the mailers you’re getting past a list of recommendations from an organisation you trust, and see if the two match up. If they do, it’s a pretty strong indicator that the organisation’s recommendations are right on.
Of course, this method of approaching the vote only works for barefoot raging socialists, like me. Your mileage may vary if you have more conservative inclinations.