Thursday, December 30, 2004

In the wake of the election, Democratic Party leaders are working on the party's appeal to swing voters. They might want to take a backward glance at how the other guys won:

One fundamental calculation was that 93 percent of the voting-age public was already committed or predisposed toward the Democratic or Republican candidate, leaving 7 percent undecided.

Another calculation was that throughout the Bush presidency, "most voters looked at Bush in very black-and-white terms. They either loved and respected him, or they didn't like him," [Republican pollster Matthew] Dowd said. Those voters were unlikely to change their views before Election Day 2004.

That prompted Republicans to jettison their practice of investing 75 to 90 percent of campaign money on undecided voters. Instead, half the money went into motivating and mobilizing people already inclined to vote for Bush, but who were either unregistered or who often failed to vote -- "soft" Republicans.

The Republicans won, in short, by mobilizing their base. In response, the Democrats try out "compromise" positions on abortion and social security which sell their own base out. Smooth move.

That comes from a much longer WaPo survey article on the campaign, which goes on to discuss some of the ways the Republicans motivated their base:

"You used to get a tape-recorded voice of Ronald Reagan telling you how important it was to vote. That was our get-out-the-vote effort," said Alex Gage, of [data mining consultants] TargetPoint. Now, he said, calls can be targeted to specific constituencies so that, for example, a "right to life voter" could get a call warning that "if you don't come out and vote, the number of abortions next year is going to go up. "

This is an article about tactics in elections, so it doesn't say a word about whether the message in that phone call is honest. But districts where anyone was actually campaigning to loosen restrictions on abortion -- let alone where they had a chance of getting such a bill passed -- were surely few and far between. For look at what that's like on the ground, and at the Republican use of churches (a tactic on which the WaPo is studiously silent), through the eyes of one Republican voter who was stunned to discover that the chances of actually passing a federal constitutional amendment on gay marriage are nil, look here.

Thus the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Democrats are quoted complaining that the 527 groups couldn't coordinate with Kerry's campaign effectively. But what's their key example? The Swift Boat Ads:

The Democratic media 527s "didn't do what we wanted done," Kerry media adviser Tad Devine said. "We would have run ads about Kerry, we would have had answers to the attacks in kind, saying they were false, disproved by newspapers."

Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. Ickes said he regretted not responding to the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks, but at the time he thought they seemed "a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?"

And Ickes is right. In monetary terms, the Swift Boat ad buy was tiny -- about $540,000 of a billion dollar campaign effort. The impact was from coverage of the "story" by news outlets. And that was one-sided for weeks not because of a lack of ad purchases on the other side, but because there was no effective response from the candidate himself.

So, how did Kerry's campaign strategists exploit the rise of the 527s? So far, it's given them a place to try to pass the buck.

One last note from the Republican side: they were doing the targeted phone banking because they concluded early on that traditional phone banks blasting generic messages at largely Republican precincts were just ineffective. The Democrats wound up spending a lot of volunteer hours on exactly that; it's sobering to wonder how some of them might have been better spent.

More:Republican political operative Patrick Ruffini, on his own blog, isn't buying the "coordination" excuse for the ineffectiveness of the 527s either. But he sees another thing wrong with it: their ads just stunk. via Interesting Times.

WaPo articl via Josh Marshall, who thinks rather more of the gripes about 527s than I do. Ground-level report via Suburban Guerrilla.


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