Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Politics 101. It's the turnout, stupid.

Trump did as well as Romney.  Democrats didn't turn out.   Trump won.  Simple.

Local political consultant Cathy Shaw has had success helping elect candidates and pass bond and tax levy issues.  Her premise is that relatively few people change their minds about political matters. Democrats support Democrats, Republicans support Republicans.  People who want government services such as libraries and schools and transit systems like them and vote yes, and people who want lower taxes vote no.

There is no changing minds.  But there is motivating people actually to vote.   Shaw has an understanding of politics that the votes that are up for grabs are the votes of people who might or might not bother voting at all, or who might vote for president and senator and then look at the bottom half of a ballot, where the city and county races are, and conclude they don't know and don't care who is running and leave it blank.

It is all about turnout.

Candidates and political observers want to focus on the wrong thing, the minds that got changed, the Democrat who voted for Reagan then voted for Trump.  Candidates like to think they sometimes win over voters of the other party.  They mistake politeness for agreement.  Observers like me look at votes changed, not votes uncast, and that is a mistake we make because we are interested in issues and the swing voters in elections are people who are not all that interested, which is the very point.

Click Here for the article
Today a fascinating article is bouncing around among political observers, resurrected from its first publication shortly after the election.  It is occasioned by Trump's unintuitive behavior as president.  He isn't trying to unify the country.  He is not trying to "widen the base."  If anything, he is narrowing the base and enthusing it.   He is focusing on his base and really getting them excited:  Pardon "patriot Joe Arpaio", insult McCain and McConnell, call the non-Fox news "fake", defend statues of Confederate heroes, etc. 

Maybe Trump is doing it exactly right.   He isn't changing minds.  He is changing motivations.   That November, 2016 article begins:  

"An astonishing spectacle of the election aftermath is the false account of why Trump won.  The accepted wisdom is that Trump succeeded in awakening a popular movement of anger and frustration among white, blue-collar, less educated, mostly male, voters, particularly in non-urban areas.  Trump promised them jobs, safe borders, and dignity, and they responded by turning out in masses at his pre-election rallies and eventually at the ballots, carrying him to victory.    

The story is mostly wrong."

The article by Ben-Shahar says the real story is that Hillary was less attractive to the traditional Democratic base and a significant number of them did not bother to vote.  The problem was turnout, he reports.   Greater Detroit gave 595,000 votes to Obama but only 518,000 for Hillary.   It wasn't that they voted for Trump.  Trump got only 10,000 more votes than Romney.  They didn't bother voting and that county was more than enough to explain the Michigan margin. 

In Wisconsin she received 230,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.  Trump got the same number of votes as Romney.  She lost the state by 30,000 votes.   Again, the margin was the turnout.

Tim Kaine
There are implications for Democrats going forward.  It does not necessarily mean that Democrats should become Republican-lite, nor that they should become nationalist or populist or anti-immigrant.  The actual policies for the Democrat are still up for discussion, although a Democrat who fails to address the concerns of white Americans who feel anxious about social changes will, I think, have failed to do one of the great civic duties of a president, which is to attempt to unite the country.

The Democratic candidate cannot be a bore.  Tim Kaine (need I remind readers, the Democratic candidate for Vice President) was boring.  He generates no sparkle, no passion.  (Would readers have known had I put here a photograph of some other white male in a suit and tie and labeled it "Kaine"?)

My very first post on candidates, the first post after a brief introduction, written in August 2015, was a review of a high-dollar donor event by Hillary Clinton in Portland, Oregon.    My report at that time foreshadowed the campaign.   Click Here. I saw it coming, but didn't know what I was seeing.

She was competent, I said.  Workmanlike.    I said she offered herself as an "experienced competent warrior in a world of ugly endless political trench warfare."

I wrote:

"But it was prose, not poetry.  There was a template of good things, but it wasn't set to music.  It pleased my good mature judgement.  But I want my heart to beat fast with real excitement.  I wanted some vision of some sort of better improved world.  I wanted something uplifting to be said, but it wasn't, at least not yet.  Maybe someone can write her a speech, something at soars about the possibilities of some better world, not just another decade of the current grind."

The turnout die was being cast back in the very beginning, August of 2015.  Hillary did not have whatever sparkle it is that makes a person on TV interesting, whatever star quality that makes a person want to tune in and believe her.   She might well be a superb appellate attorney writing complicated legal briefs, but she is not the person to put in front of a jury.  She is no showman.  

Democrats won elections against a tide of opposition when they had candidates who had sparkle:  JFK had it.  Bill Clinton had it.  Barrack Obama had it.   Star quality.

They lost when they sold competence and experience: Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Hillary.

Democrats need someone who will unite and excite.


Rick Millward said...

Most Democrats are biding their time and letting the Trump scenario play out. I sense that next time around they will have an advantage with Republicans in disarray after a year of chaos. In rereading the platform everything still holds true, but programs for low income, minorities and young people were not emphasized in favor of a centrist economic message. That was the core mistake that fractured the Obama coalition and won't be repeated.

Rick Millward said...