Karl Rove released a brief late last week which demonstrated how over simplistic the idea of “turning out the base” is.
The phrase is political shorthand, but it makes it sound like each election turns on whether dyed-in-the-wool Republicans or Yellow Dog Democrats actually show up to vote. But as Rove points out, analysis of election results in 2010 and 2008 demonstrate that stalwarts of each party showed up to the polls. So John McCain’s poor showing in the Presidential election could not be chalked up to Republicans sitting at home, right?
Well, not quite. Those who strongly identify with one party or another probably do so because of an interest in politics, and are most likely to vote no matter what. A lack of excitement about a candidate manifests itself in other ways – borderline activists are less likely to go to rallies, make phone calls, or knock on doors if their candidate isn’t exciting. They’ll still vote, but they’ll do little else to convince others to vote along with them. Rob Eno of the excellent Massachusetts blog Red Mass Group sums up the need for a good infrastructure based on local activists; that type of activism doesn’t happen if “the base” doesn’t feel like a candidate really represents them.
All of which adds up to less outreach to independents – who are, says Rove, the real collective fulcrum of each election.