Headline Reaction: Elizabeth Warren and the Base

Will appointing Elizabeth Warren to head a consumer protection agenda unleash an eruption of Democratic votes in November?

Writing at The Hill’s Pundit Blog, Brent Budowsky writes:  If Obama names Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic base erupts like a volcano and votes.

My basic reaction:  no, no it won’t (more on that in a second).

You, the dear reader’s reaction:  Elizabeth who?*

Elizabeth Warren is Harvard Law professor who is being considered to head a new consumer protection agency that is in the works.  Her possible nomination is a cause célèbre in some circles, but the degree to which her nomination would be a major motivator for Democratic turn-out strikes me as a stretch in the extreme.  While specific nominations may be exciting to specific persons or constituencies within a party, I cannot for a moment believe that such would cause a significant increase in turnout, let alone anything volcanic.   Would it excite certain progressive-leaning voters in the Democratic Party?  I suppose it might, but then again I would think that the type of person sufficiently engaged in politics to know or care about a bureaucratic appointment is almost certainly an active voter already.

If the Democratic base needs a motivation to vote, here’s one:  control of both chambers of Congress is on the line.  I am guessing that that fact is far more salient even the hardest of the hardcore of the Democratic base than is who gets appointed to head a consumer protection agency.

*Well, OTB readers being political junkies basically by definition probably have a passing clue who she is.  However, one wagers that most people, even politically active types, likely have not idea who she is.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. john personna says:

    As a moderate, somewhat self-educated on economics and the recent credit crisis, find Elizabeth Warren to be awesome.

    The campaign against her (Megan McArdle, etc.)  is actually disturbing because it is so immoderate, and sweeps so many root causes of the crisis right under the rug.

    I mean, at in its basic form the hard-libertarian position is that people should be free to take foolish loans.  And that might be right in a philosophical sense, if the results weren’t staring us in the face.  When an entire nation takes bad loans, bad things happen.  See the US, see Greece.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Isn’t she that woman who’s on the Colbert Report all the time?

    And, yes, we have back-to-back posts this morning on journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about how public opinion works.

  3. And, yes, we have back-to-back posts this morning on journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about how public opinion works.

    Indeed:  I just noticed your SCOTUS post and had pretty much the same thought.

  4. Tano says:

    I come down somewhere in the middle on this one. Clearly Budowsky’s headline is way over the top. But on the other hand, I think it also true that Warren has quite the following amongst liberal political junkies. And political junkies can have a significant role in shaping the opinion of the political base (a small subset of the party followers at large, let alone the general public).
    When you look at the famous enthusiasm gap, it does seem to be somewhat irrational. Being disappointed that not all of the worlds problems have been solved yet is one thing – but this administration has been a huge success for liberals under any reasonable standard. And the prospect of losing Congress should be so distasteful that there should not be any lack of motivation to go out and vote. But there does seem to be so far. Seeing the President fully engaged in campaign mode for a few months will probably help, but also seeing some Presidential action that clearly and unambiguously says that “Obama is with the progressives”. For those who are engaged and potential activists, be it in the blogosphere or out on the streets – the appointment of Warren has become a key indicator issue. Lots of liberals have, for quite some time, been arguing that she is the obvious choice – that if she isn’t appointed it is a real sign that the administration doesn’t care about progressive issues as much as it should.
    So yeah, in a sense I do think that her appointment would open some doors – I can’t quite say floodgates – amongst committed progressives who will feel that the administration cares, and is with them, and thus they should get  out and work this election. And if they do, they can maybe goose up enthusiasm in the larger base.

  5. john personna says:

    Is the tragedy that “political junkies” and bloggers both use Warren as a place-holder, yet again?

    I have trouble seeing the spin as bigger news than a couple trillion dollar crash in credit markets.

  6. You’re absolutely right. I saw this article and just snickered. Then I blogged about how absurd it is:

  7. PD Shaw says:

    My initial reaction was that the only person who would erupt would be john personna.

  8. john personna says:

    I have to admit, I would like someone to engage with the idea of consumer protections and how they relate to credit bubbles, crashes, and recessions.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    No recriminations intended, the heart wants what the heart wants.

  10. Dividist says:

    Congratulations to Brent Budowski! His post was nominated to the list of<a href=”http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/2010/09/top-ten-dem-delusions.html”> Top Ten Democratic Delusions</a> Since Obama Was Elected.

  11. Tano says:

    I read your comments on your blog, and did not find them convincing.
    Let me reiterate though, that I agree that Budowsky’s headline was way over the top. But as I argued above, I don’t think it totally absurd.
    I take issue with your pt. 3. The election landscape may well be defined by the economy at large, but I think the polling indicates that the specific result of this election will be determined primarily by turnout. Will the GOP enthusiasm gap lead to a big win for them, or will a goosed-up enthusiasm on the Dem side limit the damage? Maybe save the House. So the key factor in determining the result will not be the specific state of the economy, but the rate of voting achieved by either side.
    That is the overall context. The one other factor you seem to be missing is that it is not Warren directly who would excite the base. You are correct that most people, even in the base, don’t know her and wouldn’t be motivated by her even if they knew her. No, the potential of a Warren appointment comes from the effect it would have on the Democratic and progressive activists – the bloggers, radio personalities, cable commentators – the opinion drivers. Those are the people who know who Warren is, and who would be excited by her nomination. And if these activists are either 1) disappointed, disillusioned, apathetic, or pissed or 2) excited and feeling that the administration is doing good things and paying attention to their concerns – well those 2 alternative attitudes can make a big difference in how they speak to the base, and how they might either dampen enthusiasm or excite it amongst their readership/listenership – i.e the base.
    Maybe I am wrong, but I think there is some potential effect there.

  12. @Tano:

    t I think the polling indicates that the specific result of this election will be determined primarily by turnout.

    Isn’t every election predicated, ultimately, on turnout?

    The question is whether the appointment of a relatively obscure academic (pardon the redundancy) to significant yet ultimately obscure bureaucratic position will have a substantial effect on turnout.

  13. Tano says:

    Well sure, turnout is always a factor. But as we have been discussing around here re. the generic ballot polls, it does seem that the most prominent feature of this campaign season is the disparity in voting enthusiasm on the two sides. The polls seem to show relatively equal support for the two parties, and in fact, a preference for Obama and for Democrats in Congress, relative to Republicans in the favorability polls. What is giving the GOP its big leads that one finds in likely-voter polls, is the much greater interest and motivation on their side to get out and vote. The result of this is the perception that the Dems really need not work as hard on convincing people at this point – they have sufficient levels of support – but rather simply making sure that enough of their supporters turn out. Not some extraordinary level, just a level that at least begins to approximate the expected levels for the GOP. If the Dems can do that, they will keep their losses to an acceptable level (ie they wont lose the House).
    So yeah – I do think it is about turnout. And in the indirect manner I outlined above (through the intermeidary of activist opinion-drivers and THEIR enthusiasm) I think there may be some effect from her appointment. I guess I have the need to repeat what I said before – I agree that it isn’t Warren per se who will motivate the base – her appointment may motivate the activists, and if the activists are motivated, they will help to motivate the base on a whole range of issues.

  14. Ted says:

    Any benefit Elizabeth Warren brings to “motivating the base” will be more than overwhelmed by the adverse effect she has on the economy and the effect of a moribund economy on independent voters.  She’ll do far more damage as head of the agency than Sarah Palin ever could have as vice president.

  15. john personna says:

    Can you explain that Ted?
    How exactly does Warren plan to bring down the economy?
    How exactly could it be worse that the “loans for everyone” free for all that came before, ultimately crashing into the economy we have now?