Calpundit had not one, but two posts attacking the idea that Democrats should be trying to enlarge their voting base by getting “new voters” instead of appealing to “swing voters” as they normally do. I couldn’t disagree with Calpundit more.
One reason talking about getting new voters has never brought forth any results is that since 1984 or so (DLC takeover) this strategy has not actually been tried. “Party-building” soft money was deliberately diverted into big media buys with only immediate effects and no long-term gain, and the swing-voter strategy has been the only one in effect.
Dave Johnson makes a similar point, highlighting exactly what it means to expand your base and pointing out that Republicans have been doing this much more effectively and for much longer than the Dems:
But in the long term there is very little being done to grow that core base. It has been a process of just relying on them to exist. The resources are constantly applied to the existing base, and of that to the most active of the existing base, would cause the less active base — and outside of that the occasional voter — to become less and less active.
For all the talk of “appealing to the swing voter” it is more a matter of placing a lot of ads and making a lot of speeches in a short period before the election, and hoping they attract these “swing voters” and that they will show up, but working on your base for turnout. Resources are NOT applied to getting turnout from other than the base. AND longer term efforts are not applied to PERSUADING new voters to support the core of the party ideals. It is jsut so much more efficient to apply resources to the GOTV effort of getting that base out.
Interestingly, what neither Nick, Kevin, Dave, nor John points out is that Democrats (and not just Dean) are suddenly seeking to expand their base in just this way. Part of it has to do with a ban on the types of soft money John argues used to go to big media, and the simultaneous creation of a new category of political group called 527s created after McCain-Feingold. For the new year I urged everyone who wants to see Bush out of office to give generously to such organizations. Here is why:
“It’s never been done before on this level,” says Steve Rosenthal, the former political director of the AFL-CIO and current president of America Coming Together, a voter outreach group funded by Emily’s List, organized labor and private donors such as George Soros. “It’s something that the parties should have been doing but were neglecting.”
It is all about knocking on doors rather than running TV ads:
“Really it’s been the orthodoxy of campaigns for the last 20 years that money for TV is the whole ball game,” says Dan Berwick, an associate at the grassroots consulting firm FieldWorks. “But you can’t cut through all the schlock that’s on TV, so you have to go for quality over quantity and that’s why people are ending up on people’s doors.”
If door-to-door canvassing seems a throwback to the oldest and most basic kind of politicking, the technique has been radically updated. “We’re doing a precinct-level analysis to figure out who the voters are we need to reach and then where they are and how we can talk to them,” Rosenthal says. “We’re using a pretty sophisticated Web-based voter data base and we’re using Palm Pilots so we can load all of the questions to voters into the Palms and then take their responses and hot sync back onto the system at the end of the day.”
But don’t just take my word for it. Paul Krugman agrees too!
But even Bill Clinton couldn’t run a successful Clinton-style campaign this year, for several reasons.
One is that the Democratic candidate, no matter how business-friendly, will not be able to get lots of corporate contributions, as Clinton did…
Another is that the Bush people really are Nixonian…A mild-mannered, upbeat candidate would get eaten alive.
Finally, any Democrat has to expect not just severely slanted coverage from the fair and balanced Republican media, but asymmetric treatment even from the mainstream media…
So what’s the answer? A Democratic candidate will have a chance of winning only if he has an energized base, willing to contribute money in many small donations, willing to contribute their own time, willing to stand up for the candidate in the face of smear tactics and unfair coverage.
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
ADDENDUM: There is a second issue here, which is also addressed by John, and that is the inevitable drift towards the center caused by chasing after swing voters. I agree strongly with John on this, as I wrote here, and here. Ideas matter.