Nonvoting Your Preference

 

President Obama’s post-midterm press conference was incredible in many ways. After a grudging acknowledgement of GOP gains (being too ungracious to offer congratulations), Obama declared: “Still, as president, I have a unique responsibility to try and make this town work. So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”

This attempt at Bartletesque rhetoric went over like a lead balloon, since the real world does not conform to Aaron Sorkin’s imagination. Pundits have been picking over the meaning of the “two-thirds” remark since the moment it left the President’s lips. (My own interpretation: He was trying to diminish the GOP’s mandate, by suggesting that Tuesday’s GOP victories represent the will of only a small fraction of Americans.) But regardless of the President’s intended meaning, I would argue that there is an important truth in his remark.

The mechanics of Republican victory in 2014 resemble those of Democratic victory in 2012. In 2012, Democrats successfully used technology to identify and mobilize their base; this time, Republicans did so. In 2012, Democrats defined Romney as “extreme” and out of touch; a defensive Romney could not appeal simultaneously to moderates and his base, and his voters lacked the enthusiasm to turn out. Similarly, Republicans forced Democrats to choose between Obama and their constituencies, and the Democrats failed to walk the tightrope.

If Obama could overcome his large ego — which he’s built up to protect his fragile self-esteem — he would acknowledge that this is his failure. Before the election, Obama described the division of responsibility: “[S]ome of the candidates there — it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout…. The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress…. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me, and I tell them, I said, ‘You know what, you do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure our voters turn out.'”

Michelle Obama traveled around giving stump speeches to women and African Americans, and the President also did his part — from a distance — to gin up turnout. Some of these efforts were unhelpful. In a speech on the economy, he tried to motivate the base by saying, “I’m not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot, every single one of them.” Unfortunately for Democrats, the media that reach the base also reach the mainstream, undermining candidates’ efforts to separate themselves from Obama’s disastrous record. Go figure.

The deeper story here is that, notwithstanding the Obamas’ efforts, this time the Democratic base declined to comply. Erik Erickson describes how, in Illinois and Georgia, it appears that black voters deliberately stayed home. Even if they could not stomach pulling the lever for the GOP, they could express their dissatisfaction by refusing to cast an affirmative vote for their party.

Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics digs deeper into what happened in Illinois. Rauner actively campaigned for minority votes:

During the hard-fought campaign, he spent a good deal of time on the South Side of Chicago, listening to African-Americans and courting endorsements from prominent black business leaders and pastors.

Rauner, too, heard from those who proclaimed this a wasted effort. He wasn’t going to change any minds, these critics told him, and he should spend his time campaigning where the votes were truly up for grabs.

On the surface, the critics were proven right.  Rauner received only 7 percent of the African-American vote Tuesday, just one percentage point better than Republican Bill Brady received four years earlier en route to losing to Quinn by 32,000 votes (out of 3.5 million ballots cast) during another banner Republican year.

But that only tells part of the story. Rauner outperformed Brady by four points in the city of Chicago (21 percent-17 percent), by five points in the Cook County suburbs (45-40 percent), by seven points in the collar counties (60-53) and by 15 points in urban areas overall (37-22).

So, how does a candidate receive the same 7% of the African American vote that his predecessor did, yet also do much better in heavily African American precincts? The arithmetic would suggest that fewer African Americans turned out to vote.

I have a global theory of electoral politics: It’s tribal. Not tribal in a positive way, like wanting your sports team to win, but tribal in a negative way: People’s first concern is to avoid being ruled by the other tribe. Cultural issues resonate, because they depict one’s opponent as a member of that other tribe, who will not have your interests at heart. Hence the War on Women narrative, charges of racism, and accusations that Romney forcibly cut a boy’s hair at age 17 and put a dog on the roof of his car. The GOP too uses cultural issues, to define Dems as “not right for [insert jurisdiction here]” — consider Bruce Braley, the litigious bad neighbor who looks down on farmers.

Rauner didn’t pick up any additional votes from his efforts. But if he made his victory an option that minorities could stomach, he took away a reason for them to go to the polls. Bringing down your opponent’s vote total works nearly as well as bringing yours up. Now Rauner is governor-elect.

Greg Abbott campaigned in heavily Hispanic portions of Texas, and beat expectations there. Rand Paul has presented himself to the NAACP and in Berkeley, Calif. It’s time for other GOPers go into the heart of Democratic cultural territory too. The most encouraging lesson of 2014 for the party’s future may be: Go where you’re unpopular. Because even if you don’t persuade voters to pull the lever for you, you may persuade them that it’s okay for them to stay home and let you win.

There are 18 comments.

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  1. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Appreciate this, SoS!  Thanks for the positive tone, too.

    • #1
  2. user_517406 Member
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Yes, yes, yes!  Campaign for those votes.  Not by promising more stuff, but by listening and promising a good economy and prosperous future for them and their families.  And, might I add, that’s a constituency that is very sympathetic to conservative social values as well.

    Very good point about tribal voting.  Work to win over the tribe.  Hey we’re a tribe here, though sometimes a fractious one!  Figure out what part of our message resonates with the tribe.

    • #2
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Son of Spengler:I have a global theory of electoral politics: It’s tribal. Not tribal in a positive way, like wanting your sports team to win, but tribal in a negative way: People’s first concern is to avoid being ruled by the other tribe.

    Yeah, pretty much.

    Great writing! (Not that that’s a surprise ;-) )

    • #3
  4. gts109 Member
    gts109
    @gts109

    Brilliant analysis, SoS. Republicans don’t have much to lose by trying this either. The electoral college map is daunting, and we almost have to run the table on the swing states to win. If we get a positive, likable candidate, he or she should absolutely make these sorts of pitches and try to break up the women / minority / youth coalition that Obama built. I think that coalition is likely to be a lot weaker without Obama anyhow, and if it’s directly assaulted like this, all the better.

    • #4
  5. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    This brings to mind the recent string of disinvites from various universities to those who express views that are at odds with prevailing Leftist dogma. Many of that mindset appear to believe that allowing their fellow travelers to even hear an opposing viewpoint is dangerous and perhaps in a sense they are right.

    You raise an excellent point SoS, deflating the insane rhetoric used by Leftists to demonize the Right may be just as valuable as gaining a vote. I heartily agree.

    • #5
  6. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Thank you for good thoughts, SoS!

    • #6
  7. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Son of Spengler: To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.

    • #7
  8. user_130720 Member
    user_130720
    @

    Son of Spengler: I have a global theory of electoral politics: It’s tribal. Not tribal in a positive way, like wanting your sports team to win, but tribal in a negative way: People’s first concern is to avoid being ruled by the other tribe. Cultural issues resonate, because they depict one’s opponent as a member of that other tribe, who will not have your interests at heart.

    You’re on to something. Living for two years in a tribal culture led me to see that–generally speaking–we Americans have a very poor understanding of the power of the tribe. We can act as “tribally” as the next guy, but somehow our cultural history strips us of the capacity to see and understand it. Our current and now decades old touting of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” as some worthy endgame is both a blind stumbling into tribalism and an equally blind rejection of our historic attempt to make America the land of the assimilated.

    • #8
  9. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Speng, it’s a post of genius.

    Rauner didn’t pick up any additional votes from his efforts. But if he made his victory an option that minorities could stomach, he took away a reason for them to go to the polls. Bringing down your opponent’s vote total works nearly as well as bringing yours up. Now Rauner is governor-elect.

    That’s not only true, but it’s reasonable (regrettably, the two are not always dance partners). One thing I like about your stance is you aren’t being snarky or negative about this indirect effect: it is real, and it is, from the non-voter’s point of view, a valid if passive way of registering a judgment.

    • #9
  10. Pencilvania Member
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    That is very telling – great insight, SoS.

    Unfortunately in some areas, as Roberto cites, the Democrats have been warned of this.  In Philadelphia, for instance, when Romney tried outreach of this type, none other than the mayor of the city told him to get the #*@% out. And the painful truth is, Mayor Nutter started out as a decent guy when he first ran for office, one who I believe truly wanted to help and unify the city – but there was a definite point in his administration when he turned.  He had been given the marching orders and he has obeyed them ever since. How do we combat that?

    • #10
  11. dittoheadadt Member
    dittoheadadt
    @dittoheadadt

    “It’s time for other GOPers go into the heart of Democratic cultural territory too.”

    Indeed.  Someone here in Ricochet said the same thing two YEARS ago (pretty much falling on deaf ears):

    2.  We start a traveling roadshow of Town Hall-type gatherings all around the country in the communities of people we’re trying to reach – blacks, Hispanics, Asians, youth, etc.  The roadshows feature the GOP’s most articulate representatives (not all of them at every roadshow; they rotate based upon need and availability). At these roadshows our team will engage in a true conversation with the attendees.  It won’t be a seminar and it won’t simply be speeches, and it most definitely will NOT be pandering.  It will be a back-and-forth conversation in which the attendees share their views and opinions and concerns and the GOPers explain the ways the GOP’s core beliefs and foundational principles are better suited than the Dems’ to address the people’s concerns and objections.”

    • #11
  12. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I think that what we are seeing is that while the Republican party is known as the stupid party that Republican’s (at least some candidates) can learn.  Political realignment of demographic and geographic groups is rarely dramatic and more often evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  No one is going to vote for you unless they feel like you want their vote, and if you don’t campaign in communities similar to the voter’s they will not feel like you have asked for their vote.

    • #12
  13. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    What’s the saying, “it has the additional advantage of being true”. If nothing else, politicking in unfriendly territory gives candidates an opportunity to show, “see we don’t have horns, we have ideas to help and we have enough respect to come and ask for your votes.” I suspect it makes it harder for some people to vote against when they see a candidate in person.

    • #13
  14. user_998621 Member
    user_998621
    @Liz

    Excellent post, SoS. I agree with Steve C., too, that going into unfriendly territory to ask for votes is a mark of respect and consideration that would be difficult to ignore.

    • #14
  15. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Here’s one other thing to consider. We only know how the demographics break down because of the exit polls, right?  Nobody checks boxes for age, sex, race, religion, etc on their actual ballet, so it’s only the exit polls that allow correlation of that data. How are exit polls done?  Is it someone with a clipboard asking people face-to-face or are people given exit poll ballots to fill out in secret?  If the exit polls are not answered secretly, there might be a significant number of black voters who voted Republican but who are not going to admit to someone that they are one of those people.

    • #15
  16. Palaeologus Member
    Palaeologus
    @Palaeologus

    This is an excellent post.

    Son of Spengler: The most encouraging lesson of 2014 for the party’s future may be: Go where you’re unpopular. Because even if you don’t persuade voters to pull the lever for you, you may persuade them that it’s okay for them to stay home and let you win.

    There’s an additional benefit, there are many swing type voters who live in suburban areas. Often, these types will oppose things like racially driven University admissions policies. However, they would never ever vote for a candidate who struck them as the least bit racist-y demagogue.

    People often talk about dog whistles in politics. Going onto “the other side’s turf” in this fashion acts as a type of dog whistle for these voters: Yeah, Candidate X might not want to expand Medicaid, but it isn’t because he’s looking to screw minorities.

    • #16
  17. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Superb post. On the voting line from -1 to +1, you win if you can get the -1 voter to 0.

    • #17
  18. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Very thoughtful, indeed.

    • #18

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