Ed Kilgore often annoys me because of his New Democratic outlook on politics. Just the same, he is a keen observer who posts 12 articles a day. So he is required reading if you want to know what’s going on in partisan politics. But what bugs me most about him is what I see as cynical defeatism. He is very much part of crowd that argues we have to move to the center to get those mythical swing voters. But today, we are of one mind, How to Get Marginal Voters to the Polls.
The biggest challenge facing Democrats this year is the falloff of base voter participation in midterm elections. There are two approaches to fixing this. The first is the “inspire” approach. The idea is that if the Democrats rally around an exciting issue like increased funding for Social Security, the base will come running to the polls. The second is the “nuts and bolts” approach to getting out the vote (GOTV). The idea here is simply to knock on doors and provide drivers to get people to the polls.
Although I do think it is important to inspire Democratic voters, this is more about the party’s long term prospects and my desire to have actual liberal policy instead of the usual “not quite as bad as the Republicans” policy that so often defines the Democrats. When it comes to winning elections, I don’t think the Democratic Party should much worry about policy at all. As I say all the time: our policy ideas are popular, so if a lot of people vote, we win. It’s as simple as that.
As Kilgore points out, it isn’t as though we can’t do both. But if I had to pick just one, it would be enhanced GOTV efforts. Kilgore has his own reasons for favoring this. But I think it is as simple as the fact that the reason that Democratic voters don’t show up in midterms is that their lives are more scattered and it is harder to make time to vote. It isn’t that they aren’t interested in voting. And if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years from small time organizing, it is that a simple phone call makes a huge amount of difference. Knowing that even one actual human being cares that they show up makes people much more likely to do so.
So the news that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is going to spend nine times as much on its GOTV efforts than it did in 2010 is huge. All you have to do is look at turnout patterns over the last few elections and you will see it all. The Democrats lost in 2010, but not because the people turned against them. They lost because the people who liked them in 2008 didn’t show up in large enough numbers in 2010. And if the Democrats lose this year, it will be for the same reason.
My understanding is that the Democratic Party as a whole is going to be focused on trying to overcome the base voter turnout. Just the fact that they are trying to address the problem is cheering news. Too often in the past, it has seemed that the Democratic establishment has just sat on its hands grumbling that the voters weren’t showing up. The Koch brothers can spend their millions on blanket advertising. What else can they do? Their policies aren’t popular and the people who like them already vote in high numbers. The Democrats are the party of the people (or as close as we are going to get in our two party system). Leave the wholesale politics to the Republicans. We can win with retail politics.