In a democracy, voters – not pundits, politicians or parties – get to choose the issues they care about most.

This may seem so blatantly obvious that it hardly needs to be thought about, let alone said, but it’s a fact that many supposed professionals in the field increasingly seem to forget. As a candidate, the moment you begin attempting to explain to voters why they should care about an issue, you’re losing – on multiple fronts.

For one, explaining the importance of an issue to a voters implies that you know best, and that they ought to be listening to you. Even if this is true, that’s not an attitude that most people find appealing. Usually, voters want to tell you what they care about; they don’t want you telling them what to think. It’s far more important for candidates to listen to voters – no matter how much they might enjoy the sound of their own voice.

Politicians taking this approach are also wasting valuable time. They’re spinning wheels trying to convince voters of something, rather than answering their questions and addressing their concerns. So, not only are they boring voters by rambling on about something they don’t care about at all, they’re also ignoring what the voters actually do care about. That’s not a way to win somebody over. It’s a way to get trounced.

So, as candidates prepare to run for office next year in Maine – which they should be doing by now, if they haven’t already – their first task is to find out what voters care about. Fortunately, thanks to the University of New Hampshire, we have new polling that tells us exactly that. There’s good and bad news for both parties in that poll, but there’s also an opportunity for both parties to get ahead of things by focusing on the issues at the top of voters’ minds.

Unsurprisingly, those are practical, day-to-day issues that most affect their lives. Right at the top of the list is housing, followed by cost of living, homelessness, jobs and the economy; climate change and the environment round out the top five. Those results are promising for Republicans, for one simple reason: They’re not the ones in charge right now, and they can readily spin many of those issues as being the fault of the Democrats running things – in both Augusta and Washington, D.C.


They can’t just blame Democrats, though. Republicans have to come up with actual solutions to problems. Vague promises of change aren’t going to be enough when it comes to addressing these problems: voters are going to expect real proposals. Unfortunately for Republicans, their usual fiscal policies aren’t going to be enough here; they’re going to have to get a bit more creative. It’s unclear, for instance, how cutting taxes or cutting spending will help solve the housing crisis.

Even if that’s the message Republicans want to run on, it may not be what voters are hoping to hear. If they want to make that case, they’re going to have to frame their argument in terms of these issues. A better approach would be to focus on these issues first, without abandoning other priorities.

Another good development for Maine Republicans is that Mainers say that abortion and women’s rights aren’t at the top of their minds at the moment.

That means that Democrats shouldn’t be able to use social issues to divide the electorate as they have in years past. It means that Republicans shouldn’t try to run on those issues either, just as they shouldn’t focus on immigration, drugs and addiction, education or crime. It’s tempting to reply that those are important issues, even if voters don’t think so, but then one falls back into the trap of convincing rather than listening.

Republicans can win in Maine, just as they can win nationally, if they get back to being the party of solutions, not soundbites. They’re going to have to present practical, real solutions to problems that voters care about, though, not simply motivate their base with controversies. That’s not a way to win the debate, it’s a way to duck it (just like former President Donald Trump did last month), and that certainly doesn’t serve the needs of the American people.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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