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Posted by on Sep 20, 2006 in At TMV | 9 comments

Turnout, turnout, turnout

Chris Bowers of MyDD looks at some poll numbers and concludes this: “There is no way we can win this election unless we turn out Democrats at high levels.”



This is “obvious,” of course, but the key point is that polls of likely voters show a much closer race than polls of registered voters: “If we hold a nine-point edge among registered voters, than we should also hold a nine-point advantage among likely voters. If we fail to do so, then we have utterly failed in our field operations, our message, and our media strategy.” Right now, the advantage is not the same — a 10.4-point lead for Democrats among registered voters, but only a 6.0-point lead among likely votes — suggesting that predictive turnout favours the Republicans, who in recent elections have done so well to turn out their base. In a close race, in close races all over the country, a Republican victory in turnout could prove to be the difference for Democrats between retaking one or both houses of Congress and facing at least two more years of Republican control.



Make sure to get out and vote in November!

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Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
  • Elrod

    No surprise there. But the question is how do these polling outfits determine turnout? Past performance? Or state intentions to vote this time. In off-year elections, turnout is notoriously hard to predict. What most polling outfits are doing is basing their turnout models on 2002 and 2004. In those years Republicans turned out in record numbers. But Bush’s approval rating among Republicans was much higher than it is now, and there was very little public talk of Republican demoralization on issues like immigration, spending, Iraq, Abramoff, and even torture (for the conscientious ones). To assume that Republicans will turn out in the same numbers as they did in 2002, when Bush’s approval among Republicans was 98% and higher numbers of voters identified themselves as Republicans, is probably a mistake. Every poll on voter intensity shows more interest among Democrats and those opposed to Bush, than among Republicans and those who support Bush. And every poll that shows it, notes that this is a break from the past several years.

    In other words, the likely voter models are probably wrong. But I only say probably because on Election Day, many of these angry Republicans might go and vote anyway because they got a call from Ken Mehlman telling them that the Democrats will hand the White House over to Osama Bin Laden. And the Democrats could end up just winging it, and assume that voters will show up. I appreciate what Bowers is doing, but a lot of it is motivation tactics. Bowers was adamant a few months ago that the Republicans would rise again, gas prices would drop, and the GOP machine would go into action. He warned against complacency. He’s doing the same now because he knows, better than anybody, that 2002 voter intensity models are not equal to those today.

  • interested

    Oh i’ll be out voting.

    IMO – if you don’t vote you have no voice if you do not like the way things are going.

  • AustinRoth

    Elrod –

    Still curious as to your thoughts on why Democratic turnout of registered Democrats continues to lag Republicans.

  • Elrod

    Sorry Austin, I lost touch with the old thread! Anyway, in answer to your question I’d say this: both parties need GOTV operations. Americans as a rule are apathetic about politics. Theoretically, we should get 80-90% turnout in every election but we don’t because millions of people – both potential Republican and Democrat – think that elections mean nothing to them. Trust me, I’ve seen this personally from people who would “naturally” be voting for either of the two parties. I know people who spout all the GOP talking points on Iraq, the economy, race, religion, etc. but never vote because they think “all politicians are corrupt.” And I know people on the Democratic side who say the same thing. That’s why GOTV operations are important.

    That said, why are Republican GOTV operations better these days? Because the GOP has worked harder at it than the Democrats. GOTV takes time and money. You need to identify all actual and potential voters for your side, build a database, figure out a way to target them directly, and then follow through to make sure they vote. Once upon a time the Democrats were masters at it. We called it machine politics, where ward bosses knew where EVERYBODY lived, and made sure that everybody voted. In Democratic cities and inner suburbs, local parties cranked up turnout on Election Day. In rural areas farmer’s clubs and co-ops were natural places for this too. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota are about the only places left where Democratic rural GOTV organizations are still effective. And then there were unions, much larger than they are now. Meanwhile, Republicans based in more decentralized suburbs had more difficulty locating their natural voting bases.

    But then in the 1980s some top direct mail people like Richard Viguerie worked with the GOP to help target potential GOP voters – especially Christian conservatives. Rove’s current church-based 72-hour GOTV operation is, in many ways, the perfection of this plan. On Sunday before Election Day, GOP activists with strong connections within conservative churches make 10 phone calls to friends. The recipients then make 10 more phone calls to friends. And on and on until an entire precinct receives a phone call or even a house visit from a genuine friend, reminding them to vote. This “neighbor/activist” approach is actually quite brilliant because it relies on existing networks of trust. Who wants to listen to some snot-nosed kid telling you to go vote? But when it’s your friend from Bible study or the Lion’s club or work or whatever else, then you might listen.

    In many ways the old Democratic city machines worked this way too, because the ward bosses really did know everybody. But that’s changed now. Like Republicans in the pre-1980s, Democratic social structures have changed, and the party has yet to develop effective GOTV models to maximize exposure and execution. The DNC under the Clinton years was criminally negligent in building up GOTV operations, restricting itself to large-scale fundraising and Washington-based TV advertising instead of grassroots GOTV activism. In many ways, this is what Howard Dean is trying to reverse, with the typical Washington Democratic establishment standing in the way. Dean knows that if you want to get Indiana voters to come out and pick up 3 seats, you need strong networks of people on the ground in places like Columbus, Jeffersonville and Elkhart and not slick ads that most voters tune out anyway. Dean’s 50-state strategy encourages Rove-style personal GOTV networking, while the DCCC’s Washington-based media strategy resists it.

    In 2004 we saw what was so wrong with the current Democratic GOTV operation in Ohio. George Soros and others thought that they could help to build an effective system by funding 527s that would build databases of potential voters, who volunteers would target and encourage. Having worked on such a campaign in suburban Milwaukee, I can personally attest to what an utter waste of time it was. I walked around a neighborhood filled with Bush/Cheney signs and went to the few houses that didn’t have any signs and asked them if they were going to vote for Kerry. They didn’t know who I was and while they were nice (they were Wisconsites!) they were a bit annoyed at me. And some of the names on the list even had Bush signs on their yards! It was a complete waste of time. In Ohio this happened all over the place. And worse, the various GOTV groups (ACT, MoveOn, etc.) ended up crossing each other, so potential Kerry voters would get badgered by dozens of volunteer strangers. Annoyed as hell, many of them decided not to vote for spite.

    2004 was the best evidence of what’s wrong with the modern Democratic GOTV operation: inefficient, impersonal, redundant and ultimately ineffectual. This has nothing to do with basic Democratic values. Natural Democratic and Republican voters stay home all the time; there’s a reason off-year elections only get about 40% turnout. Having a successful GOTV takes work, planning, organization, funding and execution. The Democrats might pick up one or both houses in spite of the GOP GOTV advantage in 2006. But they won’t hold either in 2008 if they don’t develop a more personalized and efficient GOTV system.

  • jjc

    Elrod, this comment is worthy of being elevated to a blog posting–a very informative description of the nitty-gritty of modern-day politics.

  • Kim Ritter

    Elrod- The Democratic party needs reasoned, intelligent voices like yours-good post, and 100% true!

    Can you imagine the turnover we would have in ’06 if we had a Democratic president (as in ’94) and a Democratic majority in Congress? It would be a massacre!

    Part of the problem is also that the Dems lag far behind in fundraising. I have a big problem with Howard Dean’s decision to put donations into rebuilding the party’s organization in all 50 states, instead of concentrating on the races that could lead to a majority in one or both
    houses of Congress. One example where this is hurting them is Virginia’s Senate race between Allen and Webb. Webb has performed reasonably well against Allen in debates between the two candidates, but lags far behind in fundraising. He needs help from the national party organization, from Chuck Shumer, or needs Dem party bigwigs like the Clintons, Al Gore or Jack Murtha to help him.

  • AustinRoth

    Thanks for your reply Elrod, it was well thougth out and expressed. I still think there is more to the story, to the points I made previously, in that given what I believe the reality is Democrats have to out-wrok the Republicans in GIVT due to the built apathy.

    I think the point you made with a lot of words rather than a few words (as if I should ever critisize on that point!) is that Democrates take take their constituites for granted, and mistaken the strong words and emotions of the few for real motivation at the core.

    BTW – I also agree that your post should be expanded and placed on the main page.

  • jjc

    I believe the reality is Democrats have to out-wrok the Republicans in GIVT due to the built apathy.

    I would agree at least that there’s a whole lot of apathy out there. I would counter your hypothesis that R’s believe more in individual responsibility (and consequently smaller government) with one that R’s are more likely to be inspired on single-issue matters like abortion and gay marriage.

    My hypothesis has the advantage of explaining why R GOTV efforts have improved even though R implementation of smaller government initiatives has been significantly reversed.

  • AustinRoth

    jjc – Well, I would say that parts of all our hypothesis together probably get closer to the real picture, as no one answer can explain iut all.

    I will agree you have a very good point on the single issue point, but also add national defense, immigration, and other slightly more positive ones as well.

    The abortion comment was interesting, because I always thought it was the Democrat’s boogeyman to bring out (if you don’t keep the Republicans out, they will outlaw abortions).

    And I would also think that anti-war, environment, and straight-up anti-Bush would be other single issue motivators for Democrats, but as of yet they have not been. Which leads back to my initial thought of mindset (someone else will take care of it).

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