(Jim Clark) – Unless the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy drags the presidential election process out the results will be known November 7. My deadline for this column is well before that so I thought I would follow up on last week’s column about the election process commonly called “get out the vote”.
To win political power in a democratic republic you first have to identify registered voters and register new voters. Then you have to persuade them that support of your political party candidates is in their best interest; finally you have to be sure they get to the polls and cast their votes on Election Day.
In last week’s column I quoted an 1840 instruction to Whig Party county committee members authored by then Illinois State Senator Abraham Lincoln. Essentially it instructed volunteers to maintain a list of voters in each district, ascertain who each voter supported for office and try to convince doubtful voters to support Whig candidates.
The process has come a long way since then although the end objective is the same. In recent years a cottage industry in electioneering has emerged spawned by professors and graduate students from Harvard, Yale, M.I.T., University of Michigan, and the University of California campuses at both Berkeley and Los Angeles. Generally these academics were in fields such as statistics, behavioral science, psychology and, of course, political science.
The process of identifying voters sympathetic to your cause starts with political party registration. Although most people assume that folks in the same political party will pretty well universally support candidates of that party the nexus is not absolute. Moreover in most jurisdictions (including Nevada) the third most popular voter registration is non-partisan which tells you nothing about how these voters are likely to vote. Finally most practitioners assume that voters registered in the opposing party will not support your candidates but that is also not absolute.
There is nothing that invites innovation so much as losing an election. Campaign managers from both major parties begin to examine academic theses to find ways to climb back on top. Taking a leaf from commercial marketing the academics found that the rough indicator of political party registration could be improved on by the vast amount of data accumulated by industry, government and academia. For example a list of people holding gun permits yielded conservative voters irrespective of party registration. Researchers found that liberals preferred Subarus while conservatives preferred Jaguars. As the internet developed marketers were able to track web sites visited by attaching “cookies” to individuals’ web activity which revealed a lot about individual preferences.
The cross indexing of all these data explain how Mitt Romney, a Republican, could get elected governor of Massachusetts, a state with only 11% registered Republicans. Democratic registrants total 36% and unaffiliated total 51% so the Romney campaign used modern marketing techniques to ascertain the issues that inspired passion and molded his campaign to what voters wanted.
Getting voters to polls is equally interesting. Researchers discovered that appealing to voters’ civic duty had little effect on turn out. Quoting historic percentage turnout figures was little better but folks did respond slightly to an “everybody’s doing it” appeal. The most effective method was to list prior voting histories of sporadic voters and threaten to expose them to their neighbors if they didn’t vote in an upcoming election. This produced a lot of angry responses but turnout increased by 10%.
Now we will see what the winners and losers of the 2012 election will be doing for the 2014 election.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at email@example.com)