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.
After I finished the post, I noticed a running theme in the five worst political videos of 2010 that wasn’t present in the five best: each of the “bottom five” were official campaign videos (and, significantly, only one of those candidates won). In contrast, only two of the “top five” were released by campaigns. That isn’t surprising; judgement is often clouded in the stress of an election campaign, and some candidates simply stumble. Those on the outside looking in sometimes have a clearer head and are able to drive points home more directly.
As Reid’s opponent, Angle is just about the worst person to criticize him – she’s a vested interest. If the media carries the torch on the story, Angle is best to stay out of the way – and if they don’t, the NRSC’s independent expenditure division will likely jump on the story if there’s any political hay to be made.
Why should Angle sling the mud if others are willing to do the dirty work?
Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, and the NRSC marked it with this video:
It’s a cool donor/message piece, matching the administration’s promises against their results and infusing some humor (or whatever it is that Jay Leno does) in a way that doesn’t affect the serious tone.
The NRSC has been taking some flack this week, but this is a pretty good idea – and not just because surveys and petitions make it easier to capture my email address and information. Even better, it follows a good pattern – between this, America Speaking Out, and YouCut, there’s a consistent pattern of engagement with voters and activists. That outreach in the context of the NRSC survey will help them craft communication that speaks a bit more directly to me when they follow up.
If you’re an optimist, it’s about connecting with the voters; if you’re a cynic, it’s about refining strategy so match talking points with the things people actually care about. Either way, it’s a good strategy.
What might be the best wrap-up of yesterday’s primary results was published before the returns came in. As media outlets keep dropping over-simplistic terms like “tea party support” and “outsiders vs. insiders” to explain what happened, the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney boils the divide in Republican politics down as “the Tea Party Wing against the K Street Wing” – a divide which is not simply ideological or experiential:
The main distinction… might have less to do with policy platforms and more to do with a politician’s attitude toward the Washington nexus of power and money. Nevada’s Sharron Angle is anti-bailout and anti-subsidy. [Kentucky candidate Rand] Paul could try to shrink defense spending and ethanol subsidies. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio isn’t a game player like [former Senator Bob] Dole’s buddy Crist is.
And of course, there’s the big caveat that each race has its own local interpretations of who counts as “the establishment” and who really is an “outsider.” All the more reason to look at the results through Carney’s prism rather than the crystal ball which other analysts are trying to use.
Rand Paul’s $250,000 money bomb is being treated like a dud for failing to meet the lofty $400,000 goal the campaign set for it. For a Kentucky Senate race, a cool quarter mil is far from chump change, but the dour coverage shows the value of managed expectations in setting benchmarks for online metrics.
Paul inherited from his father a reputation for both staunch libertarianism and savvy online organizing, which make his swings-and-misses at online fundraising and Facebook recruitment much more pronounced. But Paul isn’t the only one who falls into the trap of easy metrics: dollars raised online, Facebook “likes”, Twitter follower counts, and other obvious numbers are easy to understand, so issue and candidate campaigns alike will use them as benchmarks for impact.
Two problems stem from this. First, metrics which are easy to understand are not always easy to obtain. Second, having big numbers doesn’t always translate to big impact. Having 100,000 Facebook followers who don’t vote is just like having 100 Facebook followers who don’t vote. Further, there comes a time when a campaign must balance the effort of recruitment with the reality of mobilization.
In the particular case of the campaign’s recent online fundraising attempt, Rand’s supporters may be suffering from money bomb fatigue, since the campaign has used the tactic regularly. They might be feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and giving $25 where they would have given $50. But none of that would be in the discussion if, at the outset, the campaign had set a reasonable benchmark for dollars. There are plenty of completely legitimate explanations for why Paul raised “only” $250,000 – but what really requires explanation is the original expectation for $400,000.
Scott Goodstein ran Obama’s mobile communications campaign operations. He said, “262 million Americans are using mobile phones. That’s roughly 84% of the total population… It’s the only device that’s truly with people for 15 to 24 hours a day.”
Another plus: mobile is a spam-free zone. One has to opt-in to receive texts, and a whopping 92% of text messages are read by the recipient.
Location-based engagement and smartphone apps are great, but at the end of the day they are part of a bigger picture: getting into that little gizmo that just about everyone carries around almost every waking hour.