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?