Critical Conversation: Mandatory voting wouldn’t do diddly

Last night, the good folks on Critical Conversations had me back to join in their discussion about all things voting.

One of the topics we got to was mandatory voting, which I said was a bad idea in my column this week ar Communities Digital News. It might drive up turnout numbers, but it won’t address the reasons why so many people don’t bother to show up on Election Day. The discussion actually reminded me of student government elections back at UMass, where people frequently won seats with a single write-in vote. Contested races where people cared enough to advertise and ask for votes had better turnout.

The same principles apply to down-ballot races for municipal and state offices. People don’t vote if they don’t care, and it’s the job of candidates and parties to convince them to care.

If you want higher turnout, we need better campaigns.

How important is Memorial Day REALLY?

It seems as if each year, some version of this Rasmussen poll is released. According to a survey, 39% of Americans see Memorial Day as “one of the most important” holidays we celebrate.

You have to wonder how honest those answers are. Wouldn’t most decent people, when asked, say it’s important to set aside a day each year to remember those who served and died? I bet the folks at Progress Now New Mexico would, even if they didn’t bother to release a simple statement to that effect. Ditto for the countless Americans who treated the just-passed long weekend as a summer kickoff, an opportunity for extra yard work, or a chance for a cookout with the good meats – not just hot dogs.

All of these are valid ways to spend the weekend, and your Memorial Day remembrance was a couple minutes of silent reflection rather than a day of fervent prayer for souls lost in battle, that’s okay. In fact, it’s kind of cool that we hold the concept of Memorial Day in higher esteem than our practice of it. (In the interest of staying off the high horse, I’ll gladly cop to being in the category of people who would say that Memorial Day is one of our most important national holidays, while having spent it driving through central Virginia wondering when the next Sheetz would appear on the side of Route 29.)

The point is that what people say about their behavior may represent their values, but their actions may not match.

For example, it’s a tricky thing for political pollsters to model who is going to be in the electorate in a given year – and while self-identification may be a factor, previous voting history is a bigger factor. You may tell a pollster you aren’t feeling it this year, but chances are that if you always find a way to the polls, you will again this time around.

Similarly, you may tell a pollster you intend to vote, but if you traditionally go the George Carlin route and just stay home, there’s a chance you’ll do it again. But if you say you plan to vote, but have a history of not voting, it may signify an intent to vote, or at least an understanding of the value of voting. Those people would probably be more open to get-out-the-vote messaging and campaign communication – the way a Memorial Day grillmaster might stop somewhere between medium and medium-well and think about how good we have it, and feel that brief pang of guilt for those that faced a much more intense heat than his propane-fueled crucible of shish-kabob.

Even when reality falls short of aspiration, the aspiration can be useful just the same.

Who’d respond to a conservative grassroots campaign? Norwegians would.

(Yes, that’s a pretty tortured Beatles reference, but Mama E would be upset if it wasn’t there.)

Norway has a center-right government now, led by the second female prime minister in their history, Edna Solberg.  Congratulations to Høyre, the Norwegian conservative party, that forms the backbone of the governing coalition.

Their success did not happen overnight.  Back in the summer 2009, the conservatives were decimated and trending downward.  Even the activists were wary or being active – knocking on doors for politics was viewed by some as an invasion of personal space, and no one wanted to be impolite.  (Imagine the political process being stymied because people are too polite.  Now there’s a foreign concept.)

There were, however, some very positive leaders within the party who appreciated the opportunities of technology and how it could help with a door-to-door and voter-to-voter ground game,  (They even brought in some bumbling American to help them make the case to their activists.)

This week, they realized the fruits of their efforts:

Conservatives in America can learn how to win elections from Erna Solberg and conservatives in Norway… For example, in the city of Hamar (population 29,000), the Conservative Party’s voter technology identified over 5,000 homes where the bulk of their base vote would come from.  

In the week leading up to the election, every identified home was personally contacted by a volunteer.  In addition, all identified conservative voters throughout the entire country received text messages on election day.


Lack of enthusiasm? No problem.

Resurgent Republic posted this infographic last week (which I swiped from an email from Pennsylvania political consultancy ColdSpark Media):


The full-size picture does it more justice.  It charts various groups, how strong their turnout was in 2012 versus 2008, and how excited the said they were to vote.

In the last month and a week, it seems like no two Republicans can talk to each other without a discussion of What Went Wrong.  It’s a great conversation because there’s no wrong answer.  Every person who says, “I’ll tell you what Romney missed out on…” and then fills in a reason is usually right.  So the tactical deficiency in that picture is a puzzle piece, but it isn’t the whole problem.

All that said, check out the bluest of the blue groups, staunch Obama demographics like single women, 18-29 year olds, and Hispanic voters.  Isn’t it funny that the blue groups that were least excited about voting but voted more than the red groups that were more excited?  Part of the vaunted Obama turnout operation was figuring out who needed to vote and doing what it took to drag them to the polls; this sure makes it look like the credit was well-deserved.

People are using the internet for politics now

A Pew survey announced last week revealed that in 2010, a majority of adults used online venues for political information.  One major takeaway was that about one out of five adults used social networks for politics – and, as the New York Times mentioned, that included older and more conservative voters as well.

Surely this won’t be the last survey on this subject, but it probably could be.  People ask their friends for political advice, so if people are communicating with friends online, that’s where they’ll ask for political advice.  This might as well be the cover story for the next edition of Okay, We Get It magazine (which doesn’t appear on newsstands because, as study after study has show, print media is becoming a tighter market every day).

Activating the base so the base activates others

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.

There might be money in mobile (literally)

The FEC is thinking about allowing contributions via text message in a ruling expected this fall, allowing campaigns to capitalize on the same small-dollar, high-volume donation campaigns that worked so well for American Red Cross efforts in Haiti.

The potential for campaigns is fairly obvious – campaign rallies, events, and even media appearances could become fundraising opportunities.   But consider the fact that few campaigns spent lots of time collecting mobile numbers in 2010.  How many members of this year’s House freshman class will regret a lack of investment in mobile for the 2010 election when they begin their 2012 reelection efforts?

Anuzis challenges Steele

The Weekly Standard caught a tweet from Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan Republican Party chairman, saying he will again run for RNC Chair.  He will probably not be the only challenger to incumbent Michael Steele.

Steele seemed like a good fit for the job when he bested five rivals – including Anuzis – in January 2009 in a grueling, multi-ballot race.  He provided much-needed racial diversity to the ranks of the Republican talking heads and brought blue-state credibility.  On the heels of the 2008 shellacking, the Republicans badly needed to demonstrate they were more than a party of white southerners.

From the beginning, there were whispers about Steele’s lack of conservative street cred.  Where Steele has drawn criticism, though, has been in the “blocking and tackling” – the basic elements of a party chair’s job, like fundraising and building a GOTV infrastructure.  (In fact, Anuzis uses just that term.)  After a six-way race for the chairmanship, criticism was inevitable for whoever won, but Steel made it easier.  The whispers in Republican circles (which “unnamed sources” give voice to in the Weekly Standard piece) is that the 2010 gains should have been bigger.

In his announcement, Anuzis channels the 2008 McCain campaign (which poked at then-candidate Obama’s quasi-celebrity status):

My agenda is very straightforward. I have no interest in running for office. I won’t be writing a book.  It is not my goal to be famous. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who will work harder, more diligently and be more committed to electing Republicans from the top to every township and city across this great country of ours.

It isn’t worth including at this point in the campaign, but Anuzis has another bullet left in his chamber: his background in digital politics.  As the race for RNC chair heats up, look for Anuzis to use this – accompanied by criticism of the failed initial launch of – to separate himself from the pack.

You can’t keep the People’s Seat without the people

Politico points to dismal results for Republicans in Massachusetts as a good indication that Scott Brown might not be a Senator much longer.  But a post by NRO’s Jim Geraghty recounting some intelligence from New England indicates that it may be more than the Bay State’s penchant for Democrats at play.

Geraghty’s source talks about the unified effort that Democrats and their organized labor allies made in contacting nearly a million voters to stave off another Brown-esque upset.  But the phenomenon is not exclusive to Massachusetts.  For example, in Nevada, Washington, and Colorado Democrats defended vulnerable Senate seats by outperforming opinion polls that showed either a tie or a Republican advantage.

When Brown won his election, it had much to do with enthused Republican activists (nationally as well as in Massachusetts) sensing an opportunity and paying lots of attention to the race by making phone calls or going door to door to recruit voters.  In past midterm elections, the the Republican 72-hour Task Force would do the necessary grunt work to get voters to the polls.  That effort was missing this year – and nothing takes it’s place in 2012, Brown may not be the only Republican Senator in trouble.

This weekend in DC: Sanity gets restored.

The left is looking for a savior, and Jon Stewart is in town.

The Big Daddy co-star’s Rally to Restore Sanity, along with famed Congressional witness Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Fear, descends upon Washington DC this weekend just before the election.  Many are hoping this event – which figures to be huge, both here in DC and in satellite rallies across the country – helps round up the Obama flock in a final push for the polls.  That hope is misplaced, if only because of timing.

If the idea was really to organize and mobilize, the weekend before Election Day is far, far too late.  When Glenn Beck and FreedomWorks held rallies in August and September, there were still months – months! – to go before election day.  There were doors to knock on, voters to call, and independent friends and neighbors to convince.  Those who attend this weekend’s rallies will surely vote, but aren’t likely to impact campaigns.  (And even if they did, who’s to say that the Stewart/Colbert crowd will all be center-left oriented?  I have plenty of right-leaning friends who are looking forward to the weekend.)

Stewart and Colbert can be pretty funny – especially Colbert, whose commitment to staying in character is nearly unparalleled among television comics.  More than likely, their show will have more value as a comedy extravaganza than as a political movement.