October 07, 2005
The Politics of Mobilization
This bit from William Galston and Elaine Kamarck's Third Way report strikes me as fairly important:
Jimmy Carter captured only 72 percent of the liberal vote in 1976 and won the presidency. John Kerry captured 85 percent of the liberal vote and lost. Carter captured 77 percent of registered Democrats and won; Kerry
captured 89 percent and lost. In fact, no Democrat in modern history captured a greater percentage of both self-identified liberals and registered Democrats than Kerry, yet he lost.
So, for Democrats who think that we just need to follow a strategy of base mobilization, the numbers just don't bear you out. Kerry also won 54% of moderates, but lost because a slight majority among Independents and huge base mobilization still turned out a smaller number than the Republican base. Now, I think Kamarck and Galston get something wrong when they assume that these numbers and, more importantly, the ideological values that underpin them, are fixed, and I'll be saying more about that soon. But they are quite right that mere Democratic/liberal turnout, if it doesn't also mobilize across the rest of the political spectrum, will not win us any elections.
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I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of your readers do not concede that the Democratic Party's message is the problem; so far as I can tell, most Democrats think that they have no problems that cannot be overcome with better marketing (a/k/a "framing"), organization and fund raising.
My view is that the Democrats will not be able to capitalize on the Republicans' weakness so long as the Democratic Party is dominated by the MoveOn/Howard Dean types. Clinton ran on a campaign promise to cut taxes, if you recall, and he wasn't a peacenik.
Posted by: DBL | Oct 7, 2005 2:09:20 PM
There is excellent evidence that Bush voters believe his policies reflect their preferences in ways that they manifestly do not. No need, in other words, for a candidate to move left _or_ right. Simply recruit the best you can get, and run against the actual, radical, and deeply unpopular policies for which a decade-plus of GOP dominance strongly indicates they stand.
The result should be to peel away reasonable amounts of Eisenhower Republicans who haven't noticed what their party has become, and to win moderates outright.
Besides, incumbent elections are always referendums. The GOP is incumbent; 2006 and 2008 will be about them, not the alternative.
Posted by: wcw | Oct 7, 2005 2:10:27 PM
Democrats and liberals voted so heavily for Kerry because the only alternative was to vote for Bush. Kerry lost because to the rest of the electorate, he was just like Bush only without the (faux) humility, guy you'd like to have a beer with person. Kerry campaigned to not lose, which in reality shows a lack of core values, that is unless those values are the same as his opponent.
Posted by: Paoli Press | Oct 7, 2005 2:12:26 PM
I may be in the tin-foil hat crowd, but i find it hard to take any study seriously that tries to glean wisdom from an election like 2004. Ohio, like Florida in 2000, was the site of a massive crime. We won. kerry won.
Posted by: cattyinAustin | Oct 7, 2005 2:19:49 PM
The definition of "liberal" has changed in 30 years. Comparing getting the liberal vote in 1976 and the liberal vote in 2005 is like comparing apples to oranges.
I still think this report is full of hooey. They use a strategic argument to discuss the platform. You don't set platform by streategy (not if you are honest). You do it by what is right.
Then you go about figuring out how to explain why your platform is right, and bringing in voters by convinving them that you are right.
To do otherwise is to be Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, and I am not in politics for that. I want power, but I want it to do good not to do well.
Posted by: Nathan Rudy | Oct 7, 2005 2:21:59 PM
What Nathan said.
Also, there were not electronic voting machines in 1976.
Posted by: Mimir | Oct 7, 2005 2:26:12 PM
What Nathan said and,
Has the number of liberals (and with that, the popularity of a liberal agenda) declined or remained stagnant since the 1970's for some objective reason or set of reasons or because Democrats have abandoned liberalism to the extreme right wing allowing Republican candidates, talk show hosts, and other media personalities to denigrate it?
In other words, what comes first? Do Democrats need to be more conservative to fit the public mood, or engage in the work necessary to shift the public mood and create a new constituency?
Galston seems to think both Democrats and Republicans should campaign as conservatives, which from my point of view, has only resulted in letting the political environment and policy agenda shift further to the right.
I look forward to the follow up it appears you intend to deliver.
Posted by: bulworth | Oct 7, 2005 2:35:05 PM
"You don't set platform by streategy (not if you are honest). You do it by what is right."
Not in America, not if you are at all politically savvy. America's two party system means that each party is a coalition, and building up a coalition that can win, including making various compromises, is a very important part of politics.
In some other countries of course the coalitions are made after the voting, allowing a pure ideology as a viable party platform. Of course that ideology never has much relation to the actual government that is formed because the compromises still have to be made.
Posted by: Dave Justus | Oct 7, 2005 2:39:02 PM
"Clinton ran on a campaign promise to cut taxes, if you recall,"
My recollection of Clinton's 1992 campaign was:
1) Change, not more of the same.
2) It's the economy, stupid.
3) Don't forget health care.
Then he raised taxes right after he got into office.
Not sure where this is coming from.
Posted by: Kimmitt | Oct 7, 2005 2:55:37 PM
What Nathan and others have said. Also, let's make something clear. 72% of the people who actually showed up at the polls and identified themselves as liberals voted for Carter. 85% of the people who actually showed up at the polls and identified themselves as liberal voted for Kerry.
This says nothing about voter mobilization and its effectiveness. These statistics are encouraging, really, in that they show the lie in the belief that there is a growing disconnect between the Democratic Party's base and its leadership. Apparently the candidate for president in 2004 appealed more to the party's base than the one in 1976.
Voter mobilization, on the other hand, is about getting people to vote who wouldn't otherwise vote. Since it is harder for people who are not wealthy to get to the polls - shift work, lack of transportation, deliberately misleading information about where polls are located and/or about voting rules, etc. - we need to continue to work hard on this issue. Making the presidential election a Federal holiday is one way to help, as would moving it to a Saturday. More importantly, we need to make sure that there are volunteers mobilized to help people get to the polls, whether through directions or providing rides.
Is it just me, or are there a bunch of really stupid "studies" coming out right now?
Posted by: Stephen | Oct 7, 2005 3:01:27 PM
As you said Ezra, Kerry captured 55% of self-described moderates (a first for any losing candidate). I really wish anyone who accuses Democrats of being a party dominated by and only appealing to liberal extremists would take a breath and think about that for a second.
I believe Kerry is a liberal deep down, but saying he campaigned like a liberal or listened to Howard Dean too much is bullcrap. He campaigned by listening to these exact people who write reports like this for 12 months. Maybe without them he would have done worse, maybe better, but jeebus the Third Way people are not innovative outsiders trying to radically change the Democratic party.
34% Conservative make up of the electorate was a fluke and may be the result of a long-lasting change, or it may be a conflux of the Iraq War, gay marriance, and a presidential strategy of pursuing polarization. Maybe Dems need to play like this will be the uneven field for the rest of time, or maybe they need to believe the more traditional make up will return. Some pundits need to acknowledge it's a hard question.
Posted by: Tony Vila | Oct 7, 2005 3:15:59 PM
"Is it just me, or are there a bunch of really stupid "studies" coming out right now?"
It's not just you. And every damn one of them is "news" to various blogs.
BTW, Clinton ran on a middle class tax cut. It was one of the centerpieces of his campaign. In other news, Princess Diana is dead, Kimmitt. Good lord, talk about revisionism.
Posted by: RW | Oct 7, 2005 3:17:52 PM
The entire premise is wrong. We are talking about a percentage of identified X's (X being Liberals for example) today as compared to Carter's day. Whats missing is how X has changed as compared to Y (Repugnicons) and what Y's turnout was in similar fashion.
I keep saying and totally believe that frame is the key. While there is no one issue that holds all the fault, IMHO framing comes closest. Framing is why everyone seems to consider them Christian, Strong, fiscally conservative and so on. They do it well and we don't. They even have us running away from ourselves as if Liberal was a plague while individually they claim to be more conservative than each other. Our ideas aren't wrong, how we talk about them is. When they can go on TV and say the things they say without people looking at them as if they're doing drugs, it means something. Yes the MSM stenographers are largely to blame for that, but so are we. If we frame a compelling message, the MSM can only cluck about it but can't stop the message from getting through. If on the other hand we undercut each other and agree with repugnicon talking points, such as was done during the election campaign, we can't get anything across.
Part and parcel of this is not reacting to news as we see it. Far too much wringing of the hands is done with only information from the very same stenographer corps that we all seem to agree is not telling the truth to begin with. If our representatives get their intel only from CNN, MSN and FAUX, then all is truely lost. You can't forward an effective message if you are reacting to things that just aren't true.
Posted by: Fr33d0m | Oct 7, 2005 3:35:32 PM
“No Kumbayah crap,”
Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 7, 2005 3:41:07 PM
86% of statistics are made up. Though Third Way's might not be, they are, as you suggested, not static. (See Rick Perlstein's "superjumbo" argument). Equally as important, the Third Way report fails to take into account unregistered voters.
Posted by: Sam Seaborn | Oct 7, 2005 4:09:58 PM
People may not identify themselves as liberal. They like to think of themselves in the middle. However, their beliefs and desires regarding themselve tend to be liberal. In the case of abortion for instance, people who disapprove of it, still may want it to be available if they need it.
As far as current discussions about Democrats becoming more moderate, this only helps to move the center right. What are they going to be moderate about? Less entitlements? Should they not push for a sensible health ins./care system? Do they want Democrats to cut back half the troops in Iraq? What? What is moderate? Should they proclaim their moment of conversion to Unitarianism? Keep clean water, but give up clean air? Should they give up on competent policy development and proclaim they are the party of mediocrity? What are people talking about.
Posted by: Cathy | Oct 7, 2005 4:11:00 PM
Isn't it fairly useless to draw any conclusions from any studies examining those who vote, which comprise less than half the population? It seems to me, arguments regarding how to win, especially for Democrats, would be better served if they took into account the demographics of the population that doesn't vote (but potentially could). The assumption that the non-voting population is inherently conservatively predisposed is probably a bad one, considering the ethnic and economic make-up of the non-voting population tends to favor the Democrats.
Perhaps the problem is that, in moving rightward, the Democrats have given minorities and the poor less and less motivation to get out to the voting booth. Or perhaps it's something different altogether. My point is just that I think it would be more useful to find out why people aren't voting, rather than focusing so heavily on the habits of those who do.
Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Oct 7, 2005 4:15:28 PM
One of the ongoing mysteries of American politics is how the percentage of self identified liberals has remained lower than of self identified conservatives but the population habits and beliefs have become much more liberal.
Posted by: Carlos | Oct 7, 2005 5:07:58 PM
Apples and oranges. Considering that "liberal" has been an epithet that Democrats have been running from for some 20 years, is it any surprise that the self-identified "liberal" ranks are smaller today?
Yet have people's values actually shifted? Do fewer people want a social safety net? Do fewer people want accountability in government? Do fewer people want the country to succeed on a national level? Do fewer people value education and healthcare?
Apples and oranges.
And yet on this theory, a lot of would-be leaders presume to attack the progressive and liberal base, telling them -- us -- to STFU and vote for right-wing Democrats, all in the interest of winning.
But the Democrats have been pushing rightward for years. Why is pushing more rightward going to help?
Are these percentage figures out of the people who actually voted? What about all the people who were so disgusted by Kerry's refusal to take a stand on anything that they stayed home? When people don't even know whom they're voting for, it's less likely they're going to turn out.
Posted by: media girl | Oct 7, 2005 6:16:55 PM
The Third Way does the usual moderate card shuffle, talking about the "electorate" not the "people". They are not the same. The former is far richer and far more rightwing than the latter. Mobilizing the vast constituency of the poorest 30% in this country (most of whom support a leftwing economic agenda and will happily forget about gay marriage if it means they can afford medicines for their kids) is the trick - and its a trick that hasn't been tried yet. They dont vote because neither major party represents their interests. I know, I live among them.
Am I the only one who sees a pattern? Just as the Left gets really, really vocal about the Dems being Republican-Lite and even starts suggesting ditching the Dems for good, along comes this report and a whole slew of other "no, no, not a leftward move!" talking points from groups and pundits with close connections to the Dem leadership. Weird that.
Posted by: Cernig | Oct 7, 2005 6:32:38 PM
This report is being misrepresented all over the place, on the right and the left. It's just a stastical analysis. Media Girl -- the authors' point is not that fewer people describe themselves as "liberal"; it's that the proportion of liberals in the population is completely static. In fact, the % of liberals was historically high and conservatives historically low in 2000 (though not by much). There's not a trend away from self-described liberalism; there's just not a movement toward it.
And the authors barely spend any time arguing the Dems need to "move to the center"; in fact, they offer very policy few suggestions at all. They do give what I think is bad advice on handling abortion, but generally they suggest that just adopting convervative social positions *won't* cut it because "moral values" are really about "candidate character", which I think is a valid observation. And they say the voters up for grabs are in the center and that just turning out the base in ever greater numbers won't cut it, especially if the GOP keep up their base mobilization strategy like they did in 2004. Why are people interpretting this as a vicious attack on liberalism?
Posted by: tlaura | Oct 7, 2005 6:47:29 PM
Oh, and Shakespeare's Sister makes a really good point. But it's a lot harder to study the behaviour and beliefs of non-voters because there's no election data on them. This study is just of people who do vote, which is valuable on its own. My understanding is that what literature exists on non-voters is that it's fairly ambiguous how non-voters view politics. Yes, they're demographically disposed to Democrats (which is probably good enough), but they're also more likely to be inherently suspcious of government. Up until the mid-80s, for instance, a majority of evangelicals never voted. Now they're increasingly mobilized, but there still may be huge numbers of them who are not voting.
Posted by: tlaura | Oct 7, 2005 6:53:31 PM
Isn't it fairly useless to draw any conclusions from any studies examining those who vote, which comprise less than half the population?
No, because those who vote vote.
That sounds snarky, but it's a real point. As far back as I can remember (which is 1968, although 1972 was the first time I volunteered for a campaign, and 1976 is when I first started doing armchair analysis), liberal-to-left folks have argued that there was some vast untapped reservoir of support in the non-voters, if they could only be mobilized. It hasn't happened. George McGovern didn't mobilize them; Clean Gene McCarthy didn't mobilize them; Barry Commoner didn't mobilize them; and Ralph fucking Nader didn't mobilize them. Any conclusions that depend on capturing a significant number of non-voters are fairly useless, and conclusions that are based on the behavior of people who do vote are about as useful as we've got.
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Oct 7, 2005 7:00:03 PM
What Nathan said, plus:
It is less important for Democrats, who, as a party are pretty centrist, to move toward the right, than it is for Democrats to get better at "reporting" on what the Republicans have been up to. Republicans got very far with a few slanderous characterizations of Democrats and Democratic policies; Democrats can do the same, if they will just apply themselves.
There's too damn much jawing about presenting a "positive" Democratic alternative, and too little about "bumperstickers" that accurately characterize the goals and results of Republican policy. Republicans have deliberately chosen war, and then, thru corruption and incompetence, managed to lose that war. Democrats should say so. Republicans have deliberately shifted risk to, and income away from the poor and middle class. Democrats need to say so.
When Democrats accurately and succinctly summararize Republican policy, no one will any longer think Democrats and Republicans are alike.
Presenting a "positive" vision, on many topics, when yo are out of power is wonkish, idle nonsense. Trying to explain how the Iraqi situation can be salvaged by clever diplomacy or wishful thinking just makes Democrats looks naive and impotent. Savaging Republicans, on the other hand, for what Bush has done and failed to do in Iraq -- details of stupifyingly bad policy and corruption and arrogance -- accomplishes the same thing, and makes Republicans looks bad, as they should look.
Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Oct 7, 2005 7:01:34 PM
Great fucking thread guys -- lots of good stuff. I've only got a few minutes, but early next week I'll have a webpiece which tackles all this in-depth. Suffice to say that:
• Non-voters are chimera. As Tom Hilton noted, every kind of politician in every kind of campaign has tried to rouse them from slumber and it hasn't worked. Now, if someone could finbd me some data on why they don't vote and what's been proven to move them, I'm with you. But until then, speculative methods to increase participation can be part of a strategy, nut nowhere near central to it.
• The report isn't about moving to the center, it's more about what happened in the last election and, as TLaura said, the way voters perceive candidates. And, as it happens, it's all heuristics, character stuff. Not necessarily surprising.
• My main point of contention is the belief that all this is locked in. Identifying someone as conservative, as liberal, as moderate, doesn't explain what those beliefs entail. Most of the society wants universal health care -- not traditionally conservative, but clearly penetrating into that mass. Moreover, you also need to do the right things. Campaigns shouldn't be merely mirroring American beliefs, they should set forth an argument that tries to win over new believers. Perlstein and this analysis are not mutually exclusive.
Posted by: Ezra | Oct 7, 2005 9:34:46 PM
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