(Jim Clark) – As the frantic 2012 election season staggers towards a climax, we are entering into a new phase commonly called “get out the vote.” That’s the period after early voting but before Election Day where candidates, political parties, and special interest groups engage in a final effort to get voters thought to be sympathetic to their respective causes to the polls. Although early and absentee voting are becoming more and more popular (in Incline/Crystal Bay historically 60% vote early or absentee), early voters know who they intend to vote for , Election Day voters are considered “undecided” or “persuadable.”
The science of “get out the vote” dates back to at least 1840 when Illinois State Representative Abraham Lincoln wrote the following instructions to Whig Party county committeemen: “Make a perfect list of all the voters in their respective districts, and to ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote. If they meet with men who are doubtful as to the man they will support, such voters should be designated in separate lines, with the name of the man they will probably support. It will be (your) duty to keep a constant watch on the doubtful voters, and from time to time have them talked to by those in whom they have the most confidence and also to place in their hands such documents as will enlighten and influence them.”
I wonder what Lincoln would have thought of a recent giant, colorful postcard received by most Washoe County registered Republicans reading: “You are needed at the polls – STAT!” and in the small print reading: “paid for by the Idaho Republican Party.” Looks like our northern neighbor’s GOP had so much campaign cash they decided to spend some in Nevada. You notice that both Lincoln and the Idaho GOP targeted the message to voters likely to vote they way they wanted us to.
There are also very sophisticated branches of the science: One is that of persuading folks who are likely to agree with the persuader’s point of view to actually get out of the house and vote. In the Republican year of 2010, Colorado Democrats were able to rescue their appointed incumbent US Senate candidate Michael Bennet from Tea Party Republican challenger Ken Buck, who was far ahead in the polls, by identifying Democratic-leaning voters with poor voting records and sending them letters on plain white stationery simply stating that the sender looked forward to being able to thank them for voting after the election. The low-key contrast with the usual hyped political mailers caused people to actually read the letters and, out of a sense of guilt or obligation, go down and vote. Bennet won by 15,000 votes.
Sasha Issenberg in her recent book: “The Victory Lab, the Secret Science of Winning Campaigns” wrote of a sophisticated 2010 election ploy that is closer to home: “One independent group backing Harry Reid used data on how neighborhoods voted on ballot initiatives (which show voter opinions on controversial issues like marijuana, taxes and eminent domain) to define the political ideology of election precincts with a nuance impossible to gauge in partisan vote totals. Along Lake Tahoe, which has become home to wealthy California refugees, Reid’s allies defined pockets of rich libertarians they thought were winnable. So they downplayed Reid’s statewide message portraying Republican challenger Sharron Angle as an antigovernment extremist intent on dismantling Social Security – a stance the Tahoe targets could in fact find appealing – and instead played up her conservative views on social issues. Reid won the state by five points, boosted by expanded margins in upscale redoubts like lakefront Incline Village.”
So, if you voted for Reid you may have been manipulated.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)