MOBILIZING THE BASE
NYT’s Adam Nagourney reports that both parties believe we are in the midst of an electoral sea change:
[T]urning out core Republican and Democratic voters will be more critical to next year’s election than winning independent voters, long a prime target in national campaigns.
The activity reflects a new view of a political landscape changed because of what each party sees as an increasingly polarized and evenly divided electorate. Americans who move between parties–known as swing voters–are being overshadowed by a growing and very motivated base of Republican and Democratic loyalists.
“There’s a realization, having looked at the past few elections, that the party that motivates their base–that makes their base emotional and turn out–has a much higher likelihood of success on Election Day,” Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, said in an interview.
Stanley Greenberg, the Democratic pollster who advised Bill Clinton when he won by appealing to swing voters 11 years ago, said: “Things have changed over the decade since 1992. The partisans are much more polarized. And turnout has actually gone up because the partisans have turned out in much greater numbers and in greater unity.”
“I don’t see a decline in independents,” Mr. Greenberg added. “But what has happened is the partisans have dominated because their turnout is higher and they vote with greater and greater unity.”
This shift signals that the 2004 election will have a much greater reliance on identifying supporters and getting them to the polls. That would tip the balance away from the emphasis on developing nuanced messages aimed at swing voters, who make up 10 percent to 20 percent of the electorate, pollsters said.
The change has the potential, several strategists said, of encouraging the presidential candidates to make the kind of unvarnished partisan appeals that they once tried to avoid out of concern of pushing away independent-minded voters. “If both sides are concerned about motivating their base, the agenda difference between the two is much more dramatic,” Mr. Dowd said. “I actually think it could make for a much more interesting election.”
If this calculation is correct–and I’m frankly quite skeptical of it–then it does indeed make sense for the Democrats to nominate a Howard Dean or a Hillary Clinton. This only makes sense if the thesis is that moderates or independents are so apathetic that they’re unlikely to vote; there simply aren’t that many Americans who are strongly ideological.