Amanda Wilkerson: Words of wisdom for Florida Democrats on the path forward

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Tuesday marked one week since the Florida primaries. The statewide Primary largely determined who would run in the General Election.

Nevertheless, given the low Primary participation, questions about whether Florida voters were politically apathetic or uninspired surfaced.

Meanwhile, the state has been under assault through culture war legislation, designed to dramatically damage the possibility that Florida leaders will challenge the status quo and address the constantly shifting and real demands of ordinary Floridians.

The path forward for Democrats in Florida is still up in the air.

There are some inescapable questions they must answer. Who are they, outside of election season, as a collective unit? Given their restricted authority, what type of process do they have to serve with fidelity?

In this article, I explore the connection between the underdevelopment of political values and the beliefs of voters, which I refer to as artificial political socialization.

I do this by discussing the concept of political socialization, defined as the development of political values and beliefs.

Further, the greater purpose of this work is to call into question, practices, and voter engagement strategies that are deeply flawed and might continue the 30-year legacy of Democrats coming up short in November during the General Election.

Over the summer, I engaged for the first time ever in Leadership Blue. For those unfamiliar with the term or its purpose, it is the Florida Democrat’s statewide convention to rally partygoers around the values of the party and build consensus about the idea of turning the state blue — essentially electing more Democrats. I attended as a participant observer.

What I found to be most interesting is the antiquated way of engaging with partygoers. For instance, the conceptual framework was established, which was to elect more Democrats; nevertheless, a comprehensive strategy to attain the objective of making Florida blue was nonexistent.

Furthermore, the flawed strategy that does exist lacks clarity and a unifying theme. During the convention, I felt a disproportionate amount of time was wasted on Democratic Party organizers saying they wanted Florida to become blue without addressing how the aforementioned might be done.

In short, Florida Blue’s efforts were simply an echo chamber of unchecked ideas from a party that has a solid record of losing.

To put this into context, what I uncovered is that there was liberatory messaging but no real demonstrated commitment to co-constructing the work of this message and what that would mean for voters throughout the state, from various walks of life with differing concerns, who just so happen to subscribe to the same party philosophy.

I was not seeking perfection as I observed convention speeches and events. Instead, I wanted to understand what the process would be to achieve such an audacious goal.

It would first appear that would-be elected officials vying for the support of voters might more pointedly engage in the process of the development of political values and beliefs.

Take for instance when candidates talk about reimagining the Florida public school system to better support families. Or when there is a discussion about increasing hourly pay to match the increasing cost of the living wage.

Yet, for many in attendance at the party’s convention, they were engaged in the opposite, bartering for voters and concerned with their desire to lead while balancing the fear of losing.

Artificial political socialization is a modest answer to an under-discussed topic — real, sustained political engagement. There is a significant gap between election cycle discourse and what the work looks like once the cycle ends.

I have many concerns about the General Election. However, I think it’s futile to make predictions about November. Instead, I’ll leave it up to Florida voters to decide if being artificially politically socialized means Democrats stand a chance of winning.

As an alternative, I’ll focus on discussing what efforts must be made in the days following Election Day for a political party that has a message but no strategy.

I believe the party is only as strong as the people it supports. Reconnecting with voters is the key to electoral success.

Candidates and party strategists should not just ask for votes or pander to the niche interests of certain voters, but they should determine what are the lived experiences and fundamental perceptions voters have about their state. Then, party candidates and officials must utilize the words and will of the voters as inspiration to more robustly strategize about aligning policy with grassroots organizing.

Don’t patronize voters. Instead, react with resources of hope in order to create capacity, which in turn leads to full political participation as opposed to voter apathy.

The primaries are over, and the General Election season has begun.

A game-changing move for Florida Democrats is to socialize voters for full and active political participation.

___

Dr. Amanda Wilkerson is an Assistant Professor in the College of Community Innovation and Education at the University of Central Florida.

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