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The swing voters are on the ends, not in the middle

The swing voters are on the ends, not in the middle. Take a good look at this chart.


Notice that the Democratic voter turnout is a steady trend. Not Ross Perot or Ralph Nader appears to have affected the Democratic base turnout. It looks quite reasonable to interpret that third party candidates do not pick off Democratic voters, but rather people who otherwise would not have voted or would have voted Republican.

On the other hand, look at the Republican voter turnout. During a time when the Democrats went from 37.4 to 44.9 million in a trend that projects in both directions, the Republicans went from 54.5 to 39.1 million. The explanation is a simple one. The Republican party does not have a ‘base’. If they do, it is so small that it is below the radar.

Put another way, Democrats vote for their party come what may. Republicans vote, or very importantly stay home, based on the candidates and their principles, not party loyalty. This comment thread on Rachel Lucas with well over 400 mostly thoughtful comments shows the depth of the division. Even here on Samizdata there are commenters who say things like:

… “true” conservatives piss me off. And if there is one thing I can count on, it’s that McCain will knee them in the nuts when needed. Who the hell do these self righteous ass hats think they are?

My answer? We are individuals. We vote with our mind, not ‘our’ party. And you will not win without us.

I said some time back that the only Republican candidate capable of winning the big race was Thompson. Obviously, I did not make that prediction based on poll numbers naming him as their first choice. I made that prediction based on the poll numbers that did not give him an absolute negative. Well, that and the obvious fact that the swing voters are on the ends, not the middle. Had he been the Republican candidate, a popular majority would almost certainly have found him to be the preferred candidate. No other candidate can avoid the rejection of substantial numbers of voters that the RNC claims are Republicans. Because Republican strategists are forgetting something. Many of ‘their’ voters do not belong to the Republican party. We belong to ourselves. And that is how we vote. If Fred is still on the ballot in your state, it is not too late to vote that way.

25 comments to The swing voters are on the ends, not in the middle

  • a.sommer

    That’s the plan- write in Fred if he’s not on the primary ballot, and then vote against Hillary in the general.

  • Nick M

    That is an interesting graph. I’d love to see it alongside US eligible voters over the same time scale.

    But… It would seem to support Mid’s contention of there being a “Democrat ’til I die” base whereas the Repuplicans (why can’t we have a “Publican’s Party”?) support waxes and wains.

    I guess Dem’s are dogs (loyal regarardless) and Republican’s are cats (as loyal as their last meal was good).

    So who are going to be Obama & McCain’s running mates? Seriously. I think Obama will get the nod and Romney is just “Ken”.

    Like Paul Marks I’m not mentioning Mike Huckabee who is all things to nobody.

  • chuck

    Had he been the Republican candidate, a popular majority would almost certainly have found him to be the preferred candidate.

    I doubt it. I’m the person you quoted, and I also gave money to Thompson. Did you? I did so because I liked what he said. But I didn’t think Thompson would go far because, frankly, he wasn’t a very good politician. He didn’t cultivate allies or use the Republican organization, nor could he get organized. Despite your argument, there is a lot more to politics than ideas. Republicans aren’t all bow tied intellectuals blessed with superior thought and exempt from the winds of fashion. Not the Republicans who win elections, anyway.

    I would posit that the chief ingredient of recent Republican success has been the shift of the South. I think this came about because the South was patriotic, rural, and given to states’ rights, and that there was a distrust of government interference dating back to the Civil War. Southerners didn’t shift because they admired businessmen.

    Now, along with the South comes populism and religion, i.e., Huckabee. Huckabee has done pretty well in the primaries despite the sneers of much of the party. I’ve even seen interest in Huckabee among yellow dog Democrats. So I think the Republican Party is divided. The old power center in the North East and Midwest, essentially The Union, is gone. But the intellectual center of the party is still stuck there. Folks are going to have to come to terms with that if the party is going to continue to be successful.

  • Alice

    Mid — Thanks for putting this out. Only one quibble with your take on the situation — well, two:

    a. We are not talking about “swing” voters in the usual media sense (i.e., people who might vote D or R). These are Contingent Voters — they will never vote D in a presidential race, but might vote R.

    b. These Contingent Voters are not “on the ends”. They are at only one end — the R end.

    One very interesting test is to look at the Ross Perot vote in 1996 versus 1992. When Perot ran the second time, he garned only half the number of votes as the first time. Yet as your graph shows, almost none of the millions of former Perot voters switched to R. Instead, they did not vote for any presidential candidate. Contingent Voters.

    If the Beltway Republicans were not so brain dead, they would have done a lot of work to identify what it is about a candidate that can attract the Contingent Voter. That topic is of no interest to the media and academia, of course, since they are already in the tank for the Democrat side.

    Given the success of people like Perot & Reagan, I would guess that Contingent Voters want someone from outside the Beltway who recognizes that the bureaucracy needs to be shaken up. Not John McCain, for sure.

  • Midwesterner

    and I also gave money to Thompson. Did you?


  • Midwesterner

    Yes, Alice. But they are the all important voters who swing the elections and as such, would be unrecognized if labeled with a less colloquial tag.

    As to your point ‘b’, initially I thought that too, but I strongly suspect that there are contingent voters on the far left as well but they will go for third party candidates if anyone.

    I doubt the call for ‘change’ on the right, and on the left I think it is feel-good speak. What I think will gather in the majority of the non-Democrats is a minimalist that won’t attack members of the electorate. None of the present Republican candidates can pass that test. I think these voters will rather part with their own pet projects than submit to another faction’s pet projects. The successful candidate has to reflect that.

  • Alice

    But I didn’t think Thompson would go far because, frankly, he wasn’t a very good politician.

    Back in Lincoln’s day, a presidential candidate would mainly stay home, sit on his porch, and talk with anyone who came to see him. The kind of frenetic campaigning we see today would have been considered to be totally beyond the pale, unbecoming to a man who wished to be President. My guess is that Thompson was trying to nudge the US back towards some more sensible way of campaigning. Unfortunately, it did not work — probably because the media is so different today.

    The media loves to see the candidate rushing from meeting to meeting, presenting the same “pie in the sky” stump speech. A candidate who does not play their game is labelled as ‘not serious’.

    Think of the implications of Mid’s graph. Bill Clinton was supposed to be the greatest campaigner of all time. But it did not get him any bounce above the Democrat trend line. Probably the Democrat candidate could do no campaigning at all and still get the trend-line vote.

    Republican candidates, on the other hand, need to find a way to reach out to the Contingent Voter. Nominating a Dole was obviously not the way to do that. And Dole was a prince compared to our John.

  • Alice

    What I think will gather in the majority of the non-Democrats is a minimalist that won’t attack members of the electorate.

    It would be interesting to hear the basis for your interpretation, because I can’t see that at all.

    Reagan was elected on a message of changing Washington at a time (not unlike today) when official Washington was full of doom & self-doubt. And Reagan certainly changed a number of things, especially on projecting national strength. Ross Perot garnered about 20 million votes on a message of changing Washington — raise the hood & fix things.

    Neither of them got votes on the basis that they would do as little as possible and not rock the boat — the minimalist approach, as it were. My guess is that Contingent Voters want to see the boat rocked good & hard, even if they get a little wet in the process.

  • Midwesterner

    Reagan not only inspired a feeling of national strength, my very strong recollection is that he inspired a feeling of personal, individual strength and confidence. I remember supporting him not for what he was going to have government do for me, but for what he was going to stop government from doing to me.

    As for Ross Perot, I think he picked up the Romney category but alienated people like me. He was to my recollection, rather a progressive populist sort with accounting skills. But I didn’t pay much attention to him, that is just my perception.

    I think the boat rocking that we want to see, all of us, is to stop off those government projects that hurt us. And believe me, that rocking would get everybody wet. 🙂 I also believe, and I have friends in all camps of Republicans, that we are all willing to do without our pet projects as long as the other guys do without theirs. If our candidate crosses the aisle, I don’t want it to be for hugs and kisses.

  • chuck

    Back in Lincoln’s day, a presidential candidate would mainly stay home, sit on his porch, and talk with anyone who came to see him.

    I read that article too. But just because Lincoln could sit at home didn’t mean that no one was out rousing the rabble. Party identification was strong and there were plenty of orators and newspapers about. It is also worth noting that Lincoln won because the Democrats were split between two candidates and the Republicans had craftily gamed the Electorial College. Lincoln only received 38% of the popular vote, which I think does much to explain the succession and Civil War.

    There is a great description of an election in a small Montana town back in the 1870’s in “Tough Trip Through Paradise”, but I can’t find my old posting and I don’t have the patience to type it in again.

  • Alice

    Nick M wrote:

    That is an interesting graph. I’d love to see it alongside US eligible voters over the same time scale.

    Don’t have that info to hand, Nick. But here is something from a file that was lying around.

    “At the time of the 1996 Presidential election, the population of the United States was 265 Million, of whom 197 Million were of voting age. 146 Million people actually registered to vote – 51 Million potential voters (26% of the eligible population) did not even register. 96 Million people cast votes for a Presidential candidate – while 50 Million did not vote. Clinton won the Presidency with the votes of only 47 Million people – a smaller number than either those registered voters who chose not to support any candidate or those voting age residents who chose not to register.”

    Normal political punditry ignores the citizens who (a) don’t register to vote, or (b) register, but then don’t vote — even though those two groups together are approximately half the population.

    Instead, the pundits talk about “swing voters” who supposedly switch between R & D, and “Reagan Democrats” who abandoned the Democrats to vote for Ronnie. Look at Mid’s graph again, and see if you can pick out any election in which Reagan Democrats swung from D to R?

    We ignore the reality that half the population does not vote, and don’t even ask ourselves why our fellow citizens choose not to participate. We accept indefensible hypotheses about those Swingin’ Reagan Democrats, when the facts clearly show that the only significant swing is between R and non-participation. When ‘we the people’ are paying so little attention, is it any wonder that the political class can bring forth only the current unappealing crop of candidates?

    There are probably many reasons why individuals choose not to register or vote for president in any particular election. Mid’s hypothesis & mine are not mutually exclusive. But the evidence clearly shows that voting Democrat in a presidential election is almost a genetic trait — as unalterable as blue eyes or red hair. Those Democrat presidential voters are a minority in the population, hardly 25%, but they have been persistent and reliable for three decades.

  • mike

    “That is an interesting graph. I’d love to see it alongside US eligible voters over the same time scale”

    A quick google found this though unlike Midwesterner’s chart it deals in percentages of eligible voter turnout rather than absolute figures.

    I cannot account for its’ veracity. It seems to come from a lefty blog (he doesn’t do permalinks I’m afraid), and he might well have made it up for all I know.

    What strikes me most is that the degree by which voter turnout increased between ’88 to ’92 looks quite similar to how it increased between ’00 to ’04. It might be possible that the two gulf wars had something to do with that. Although Midwesterner’s chart only shows an increase in the absolute figures for the poular vote between ’00 and ’04, and not ’88 to ’92.

    However, charts dealing in absolute figures for rates of registration of eligible voters and total numbers of eligible voters over this time period would be of greater interest.

    Yet the chart does show a 5% increase in voter turnout between the election of Bush 1 in 88 and Clinton 1 in 92 – Midwesterner’s chart shows higher absolute figures in 88 than in 92 which, assuming both charts are accurate, would seem to suggest a drop in the absolute number of eligible voters from 88 to 92.

    If there are any students or profs out there, they might have access to academic papers which a mere googler such as myself does not.

  • mike

    Are the Democrats simply more aggressive and successful than Republicans in getting people to register? And does this account for their steadily increasing figures in the popular vote at presidential elections? Or is there some other way to account for this – e.g. a steadily rising number of people who perceive themselves to be benefiting personally from Democrat sponsored schemes?

  • Gabriel

    Or is there some other way to account for this

    Population growth.

  • RKV

    I liked Fred. A lot. But you are either sadly mistaken or deliberately misleading when you suggest we should vote for him at this point. I suspect the latter. What voting for Fred now will get us is McCain. I’m not a huge fan of Romney, but he’s much better on the issues and on character than McCain. Ross Perot’s candidacy only got us Bill Clinton. I ain’t going there again.

  • Midwesterner


    Barring Armageddon, no Republican will win. Look at the vote totals. It does not matter one whit which of the remaining Republican candidates gets the nomination. That is my entire point.

    The Republicans cannot continue to kick people out of the boat yet expect them to keep rowing at election time. I don’t care whether Rebublicans ‘learn a lesson’ or not. I’m not in the boat, so I don’t care if anybody is rowing it or not.

  • Alice

    Ross Perot’s candidacy only got us Bill Clinton.

    That statement is frequently repeated, almost universally accepted as truth — yet is demonstrably wrong. Look at the two presidential elections in which Perot ran.

    In the 1992 election (Bush 41 vs Clinton), R got about 39 million votes; Perot got 20 million votes.

    When Perot ran again in 1996 (Clinton vs. Dole), R got almost the same 39 million votes; Perot’s votes dropped to 8 million.

    In 1996, about 12 million people who had voted for Perot 4 years earlier decided to sit out the election. They did not switch to R (or to D) — they switched to “None of the Above”.

    Perot’s participation did not cost the Republicans any significant number of votes. What got us Clinton was Bush 41 and Dole — candidates who could not attract the contingent voter. I fear that Mid is correct. None of the remaining Republican candidates can attract the support of that key pool of sometime voters. Democrat wins by default — any Democrat.

  • chuck


    Seems to me you are overlooking other factors in the 1996 election: 1) Gingrich had overreached and shut down the government and, 2) the Republicans had no one to run. Dole ran because it would have been embarrassing for the Republicans to run nobody. And candidates do matter, if not, why are folks arguing over McCain and Romney? What you see in those graphs is not so much the intelligent choosiness of Republicans as the weakness of the party and the fickleness of the center.

  • Michael Kent

    1) Gingrich had overreached and shut down the government

    Gingrich may have overreached, but he did not shut down the government. Bill Clinton shut down the (federal) government when he vetoed the continuing resolution.


  • Alice

    chuck wrote:

    What you see in those graphs is not so much the intelligent choosiness of Republicans as the weakness of the party and the fickleness of the center.

    Goodness gracious! I try never to use the words “intelligence” and “Republican” in the same sentence.

    Please share with us how you made your deduction about the fickleness of the center.

    What the graphs show are that, since Carter, Democrat presidential voters are born, not made. Similar “broken glass” Republicans are much fewer in number. And the all important Contingent Voters (who sometimes propel the Republican to victory but never vote for the Democrat) have no interest whatsoever in the squishy center where the Republican establishment likes to hang out.

    The “center” is irrelevant.

  • Paul Marks

    Voting Democrat is the default position.

    It is what people are educated to do (by the stuff taught in school and college) and are reenforced in so doing by the main stream media and by the entertainment industry.

    To vote Republican someone must for some reason reject the establisment view – the view that dominates school, college, newspapers, broadcasting stations, the bureaucracy, the courts, and even many politically connected corporations (especially in the entertainment industry, information technology and finance).

  • Paul Marks

    To vote Republican someone must have a strong reason to reject the view of the world that dominates the modern world (not just the United States).

    This reason may be religious – for example a strong hostility to abortion.

    Or it may be a matter of economics – for example a belief that lower taxes and government spending are good things for civil society, not just good things for “the rich”.

    Or the reason may be strong hostility to the sort of world government “international community” ideas that have been spread since the days of President Wilson.

    Or it may be a strong love of the military and its traditions – something that modern leftist opinion hates (as a barrier to Progressive Internationalism).

    Once someone has rejected the Progressive view of things in one area they are more open to reject it other areas.

    But this does not always follow.

    For example, – someone may support lower taxes, but also support a pro choice few of abortion.

    So any anti Democrat alliance of people is going to be a difficult thing to get to 51%.

    It is a matter of “herding cats”.

    Getting a majority of people to come out and vote Republican is getting people to vote the same way when many of them despise their own candidate – and despise each other.

    As the old saying has it “Liberals fall in love, Conservatives fall in line”.

    Liberals believe that their candidate will use the power of government to make the lives of people better.

    Conservatives do not even believe that is possible – and most conservatives (if they are experienced) do not even believe that the Republican candidate will “get government off people’s backs” – after all that did not even happen with Reagan (either as Governor of California or as President).

    So the art of winning, for a Republican, is to convince at least 51% of voters than the Democrat is a monster – that they are a threat to the various things that this majority hold dear.

    If most people can be convinced that Hillary Clinton (if she is the candidate of the Democrats) is such a monster then the Republicans can still win.

  • Rich Paul

    The problem is, that the “dimes worth of difference” faction of the Republican party is now defunct, except for Ron Paul, and the “not a dimes worth of difference” faction seems, for some reason, to have a hard time inspiring small government people to vote, rather than, for example, jumping off tall buildings or shoving sharp objects into their eyes, neither of which benefits the Republican party.

    Imagine that there was a candidate who was just like Ron Paul, but wanted to stay in Iraq for 100 years!

  • Indeed, that is exactly the problem and why folks voting the ‘lesser evil’ are not a solution to anything. It is the ones who say “screw this” and stay home who will end up driving change.

    Imagine that there was a candidate who was just like Ron Paul, but wanted to stay in Iraq for 100 years!

    He would get my vote. But then so would Ron Paul.

  • Paul Marks


    As Ron Paul is not going to get the nomination their is no good reason not to vote for him – and there is a good reason to vote for him.

    It shows the number of libertarians – hopefully someone, sometime will take note.

    “But by voting for Ron Paul we are taking away votes from…”

    From who?

    I might sort of like John McCain (partly because the idea of hot tempered, unpredictable person in the White House makes me smile – which shows I have all sorts of personality problems of my own), but that is not enough to deny Ron Paul a vote.

    Especially with the opinion polls (outside California) the way they are.

    So Mitt Romney might seak a win.

    He is not much worse than John McCain.

    And the same mainstream media who say they like John McCain now will try and cut his heart out as soon as he is up against the Democrat candidate.

    They will not be less hard on him than any other Republican.