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Network nation

Michael Barone is truly the dean of American political analysis. Throughout last year’s election, his analysis was spot-on, and his recent post mortem continues in the same vein.

I have long thought that the way to win elections in the US was not to chase the apathetic and uninformed “undecided” voters, but rather to “motivate your base”, that is, to give people who care about goverance and who lean your way philosophically a reason to vote for you. I was particularly gratified to have a strategy that is generally dismissed by the American commentariat ratified by Michael Barone:

But polling in late 2003 and for most of 2004 indicated a very close presidential race. Bush strategist Karl Rove keeps a card in his pocket showing that the percentage of voters who were behaviorally “independent” declined from 15 percent in 1988 to 7 percent in 2002. The strategy that Rove designed and that Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman executed was geared not to persuading the undecided and weakly committed voters, but to turning out the maximum number of Republicans. The Kerry campaign and other Democrats likewise saw their main task as turning out the party faithful.

Rove won the turnout war (although not for lack of, erm, “creative” attempts by the Democrats to get the Deceased-American and Fictional-American communities to the polls in critical precincts), and the rest is history.

The Dems achieved impressive turnout gains, Barone notes, using their old, command-and-control, industrial-era model. They were, however, buried by Republicans using a new networked model for campaign organization. As a result, the Republicans under George W. Bush may well have turned the Democrat’s flank , inaugurating an era of Republican dominance.

The 2004 election has also reshaped the American electorate, in part through the invention of new political techniques. It is too early to say that it produced a natural majority for the winning party. But it has laid the groundwork.

In this article, Barone shows how it is done, using historical perspective and current data to put forth a predictive and testable thesis. If you get all wonky over American politics, read the whole thing. Peddling its insights at cocktail parties will make you seem smarter than you are, and isn’t that the ultimate payoff for all the blogs you read?

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5 comments to Network nation

  • Matt

    You could paper a house with pages from books published over the past 50 years which predict that one or the other branch of the Single Party is about to enter an era of unchallengeable dominance.

    Indeed, as a contrarian (never been wrong yet, buddy) I take all serious acceptance of such theses as a sell signal for the party which is meant to be unbeatable.

    The half or so of the US electorate which still thinks it worth establishing precedence between a louse and a flea will always do what it has to do to falsify such prophecies. When there is no substantive difference in policy, it’s no problemo to switch if only to stop one set of robbers and villains getting too comfortable. How much are you risking? They all want to fight unwinnable wars and bleed you white to pay for society’s losers.

    Admittedly at House level the rogues have so fiddled the system that it’s almost impossible for an incumbent to lose unless he’s caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy (maybe not even that nowadays, a live jackass would be required) but the presidency remains a fairly open race. Both sides have enough money for their shenanigans to cancel each other out.

    We heard this “emerging Republican majority” bullshine in the mid-1950s and the mid-1980s. It comes up about once every quarter century, usually peddled by a spin doctor or advance man with a snake oil formula for winning elections.

    Kerry only lost last time because he was a pale clone of the existing Chief Executive. The next race will be under different rules. No bets are off.

  • Jacob

    If Rove had any strategy in the 2004 elections it was an exceedinly poor one. He had an incumbent President, a growing economy and an opponent that was a very bad candidate (pale clone ? of who ? of Jane Fonda ?), and even so Bush came within one state, and one hundred thousand votes of losing.

    If the 2004 election teaches anything it is that we can never know how the next election will turn up. Political analysts, like forcasters of economic activity just spew out impressive but meaningless strings of words.

  • R.C., how dare you slight, by non-mention, the contributions of Canine-Americans, Feline-Americans, Piscine-Americans, Fictitious-Address Americans, and that most important bloc of all, Amnesiac-Americans (those who cannot remember voting on the day, and so vote 15 or 20 times) in their contributions on behalf of the Democratic Party? Moreover, in places such as New York, Philadelphia, and the Great States of Minnesota and Wisconsin, you entirely fail to mention the contributions of that most estimable of big “D” Democratic statesmanship, Phineas T. Fraud.


  • Verity

    “Kerry only lost last time because he was a pale clone of the existing Chief Executive.” The existing Chief Executive of where?

    “… unless … caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy.” I’ve always loved that quote by LA Governor Edwards. A witty, charming man.

  • Matra

    Michael Barone constantly overestimates the importance of the immigrant vote and being a beltway boy doesn’t understand how much the public is concerned about mass immigration, both legal and illegal. If I’m not mistaken he also fell for those discredited exit polls showing Bush getting well over 40% of Hispanic votes.

    As Jacob points out Bush scraped through. A one or two per cent drop in the white vote would have allowed John Kerry, one of the worst candidates in recent US history, into the White House. The Massachusetts Supreme Court and the Michael Moore gang won it for Bush.