2006 As A Democratic Base Victory

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 18:35

By now, we have all heard about how the great Independent swing toward Democrats from 2004 to 2006 was the key to Democratic victory. This is something many of us saw coming for quite some time, and we even dubbed it the "Indycrat" phenomenon. The first article I saw on this was a June 2005 post by Jerome Armstrong. During the rest of that year, it was a topic that was discussed other places like Donkey Rising, Survey USA and many other election focused outlets.

However, at Yearly Kos I briefly chatted with Simon Rosenberg who asked me to look into whether, from 2004 to 2006, Democrats received a greater vote swing from self-identified Democrats or from self-identified Independents.  The reason he asked me to do that is because he believed Democrats actually received more of a boost from self-identifying Dems than they did from self-identifying Independents. While I was skeptical of this at first, I just looked into it now, at it appears Simon was right. Comparing 2004 and 2006 exit polls, here is the estimated swing Democrats received according to partisan self-identification:

Overall Dem vote increase: 5.15%

Growth from Dem's: 2.41%

Growth from Ind's:  2.08%

Growth from Rep's: 0.66%

This is rather surprising, but it does seem to be the case that Democrats won 2006 just as much by exciting the rank and file as anything else. I am actually kicking myself right now for not realizing this sooner, as it is the sort of statistic I pride myself on digging up.  This would have been extremely useful to combat the post-election narrative that Democrats won in 2006 by being centrist, conservative, or in anyway breaking from their own party. The independent swing was important, but the swing they managed to pull off through an excited base was just as important, if not more so. Democrats stuck with their own party more often than Republicans, and then turned out at higher rates. Without this swing from their own base, Republicans would certainly still be in the majority in the Senate, and probably still be in the majority in the House.

The role of the Democratic base in winning the 2006 election has been extremely under-reported. This is disturbing, because the power centers one uses to win an election almost inevitably end being the power centers to whom ones caters after the election. If Democrats are unaware that there own base was largely responsible for their victory then, well, that might actually explain the way we have governed to date. There are quite a few Democrats, such as these congresscritters listed by Howie, who don't think they owe their own base anything, and they are voting accordingly. I think it would be useful to find a way to remind them who helped put them in office / the majority.  
Chris Bowers :: 2006 As A Democratic Base Victory

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Loss in GOP base turnout? (0.00 / 0)
My former partner (before he became a Republican and joined Bush), Matthew Dowd, helped turn the GOP machine to a base-focused strategy that took advantage of the so-called polarized electorate. But I don't know how that faired in 2006. Did the GOP lose turnout from their base in 2006 while Dems base vote was growing?

It declined relatively (0.00 / 0)
There was a relative decline compared to Dems. Overall, with voter turnout up, I think what happened was that Dems came out in big numbers, while GOP numbers stayed the sane from 2002.

[ Parent ]
Which (0.00 / 0)
also means that the relative unhappyness of the Republican base with their presidential contenders is an even bigger concern than previously discussed in the independents matter frame.

[ Parent ]
So, the lesson is... (0.00 / 0)
Message strategies that mobilize the Dem base while demoralizing the GOP base work better than message strategies aimed at attracting indies from the center. In 2006 there wasn't much disagreement over the strategy because the Dem message was going to be largely negative.

But, in a presidential year, the centrists will sacrifice Dem base message strategies, over which their funders fret, and hope to add more indies to an average Dem turnout (or leave turnout to ground games w/o message cover. This got Clinton by with less than a majority vote, as I recall.

Here's the rub. Writing in a serious new book on emotions and political communications (one of the editors is George E. Marcus, who pioneered concepts of the "sentimental citizen"), former GOP consultant Dan Schnur observes that indy voters tend give candidates the benefit of the doubt on value issues. That is, they assume candidates of both parties pretty much share their values. So, appeals to this group tend to be less emotional, less value-laden, more wonkish, and more about competence.

If you are a Dem consultant or advisor who wants to hang out in the board rooms too, this is handy neutral ground. And you can even build a logically coherent strategy around it. It sounds so very reasonable.

Your glance at the Dem base upswing in 2006 is very important to note. And the truth is, as your numbers show, indy voters don't flee from Dem message strategies aimed at base voters. Indies are people too.

[ Parent ]
You know... (0.00 / 0)
Donna Brazile and Cornell Belcher (Jerome Armstrong's least favorite pollster) made a point right after the election that obliquely touched on this when they noted that increased Democratic voting by African-Americans tipped the Senate race in MO. The paper is posted on The Democratic Strategist, but I don't have time right now to dig up the link.

In other words base voters made the difference not just by voting in greater numbers, but in giving a greater share of their votes to the Dems. That little deal is worth a read and should inform where and how progressives invest in field operations for 08.

a strong base builds a strong party (0.00 / 0)
This is incredibly important, not just in understanding the context of the last election, but in moving the progressive movement forward. One of the most interesting implications of this in the framing of the debate and what issues** we address. It is the reflex of the majority of the mainstream political consultancy (obviously not all as many are moving away from this context) and chattering class to avoid the issues and ideas that are deemed too 'liberal' for the middle. They still believe we have to move to the right of the Left in order to win.

The fact that this data indicates that the ideas pushed by the DLC and other orgs like it are not the way our country is moving anymore, gives the progressive sphere an opportunity to push the issues we care most about. Suprisingly (please read the snark....), it seems people like it when we fight for what we believe in and I for one am really excited.

**this was the first avenue I thought about, sooooo many other areas that this can affect

Keep all this in mind (0.00 / 0)
when the next Amy Sullivan article comes out - and there is always another Amy Sullivan article. But the "persuadable evangelicals" tactic is based on the notion that swing voters count for more than the base. Your data suggests otherwise.

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depends on what the persuasion is (0.00 / 0)
Moral messaging on, say, the climate crisis or poverty might persuade these persuadable evangelicals without sacrificing Dem base messaging.

What the DLC means by "centrist" is protection for the financial, defense, insurance and oil & gas industries. I s'pose telecom should now be included. They like to avoid all gender, race, and the so-called lifestyle issues when they can, but as the southerners who created the DLC might say, they don't really have dogs in those hunts.

Their mission is the protection of their key financial backers. As I said above, independent voters respond to messages of competence and experience, not red meat values issues. So, the DLC focus on the "vital center" allows the DLCers to insist on persuasive messages that avoid altogether issues that might damage their pretty benefactors, that is, issues that matter to the Dem base.

I've done more campaigns for DLC-backed candidates than I want to admit, and lost the internal message fight many times. For base voters, they rely on structural turnout mechanisms -- soulless door knocking, auto-calls, some patronizing direct mail, a little ethnic radio and t.v. And they spend their money messaging the "swings" in the "vital center."

Two things are keeping them awake at night:  1) growing power of the progressive movement that focuses on issues that matter to the base; 2) deteriorating economic conditions that leave their precious indy voters opening their minds to traditional base messages. Even swing suburbans can't afford health care, they feel the climate change when they leave their homes, they can't afford public colleges, the Iraq war is a tragic disaster, their bridges are falling down, American cities are sinking into the sea.

Two points: whoever the persuadable evangelicals are, they, like the so-called independent voters, will be persuaded by message strategies that honestly express the progressive movement's deepest values. This is the DLC's worst nightmare, because they'll loose their human shields, the independent voters.

And, keep in mind that the DLC game will be to rhetorically rip-off progressive talk (hence their use of "progressive center") much like Bush used the phrase "compassionate conservative." This will keep their players in the game through the '08 cycle so they can be elected or re-elected to carry out their real mission, the protection of those key corporate backers.

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You found the nut here: (0.00 / 0)
"independent voters respond to messages of competence and experience, not red meat values issues." That suggests to me that the margin is still in firing up the base, since persuadable evangelicals are by definition swing voters, so appeals to values (such as "lightening up" on abortion) isn't going to get anywhere.

But I'm interested in your idea that reaching out on issues like climate or poverty might work. That's the first time I've heard a neutral authority say such a thing.

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[ Parent ]
Well, I'm not all that neutral, but... (0.00 / 0)
The issues of climate change, poverty, unhibited corporate greed etc. would have always worked, but now they are being raised by a growing progressive infrastructure outside and between election cycles.

In the past, Dem messages were delivered almost exclusively through campaign advertising -- and the advertising was controlled by the money men who purchased it. And their very strong preference was not to raise issues that might hurt their benefactors, and they used the excuse of "swing voter" response to bland messages of competence.

The 50 plus 1 campaign formula Obama criticized at YK referred to the DLC (I'm using them literally and symbolically to refer to all kinds of centrists) formula was to get "just enough" base voters to win, not maximum base voters and "just enough" indy voters. The reason? Those base voters are dangerous.

There's a reason voter disenfranchisement didn't become an issue until there was a progressive movement outside of political campaigns where the money men controlled the message. There's a reason Gore gave up in 2000. I wish I was making this up.

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Glenn (0.00 / 0)
Could you expand on this part a bit:  "There's a reason voter disenfranchisement didn't become an issue until there was a progressive movement outside of political campaigns where the money men controlled the message. There's a reason Gore gave up in 2000."

It's intriquing, but I don't really get the connection.

Thanks, and great comments.

[ Parent ]
Disregard for the base (4.00 / 1)
I should have made it a little clearer. Centrists in control of campaigns (because of their access to money) have for many years argued strongly against making the necessary fight against GOP voter suppression. The reason was they only wanted "just enough" base votes to win. Their campaigns were aimed at suburban anglos.

Of course, what they said were things like, "Republicans are trying to intimidate voters, and if we raise the issue we'll just spread the fear." Or, they worried that such a fight would confirm to so-called swing voters that Dems only cared about minorities.

The takeover, or in the south the Restoration, of conservative control of Dem politics followed passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the opening up of the national Dem Party by rules reform, and the McGovern loss in 1972. They were fairly panicked that an emerging new mass of progressive voters would damage key financial backers, like the oil and gas industry. One of the reasons I admire LBJ was his championing of the rights of minority voters despite this worry from many of his wealthy friends.

I believe that this centrist dread of what would happen if all the disenfranchised minorities and demoralized whites  began to vote is behind the terrible base messaging and lackluster base GOTV that defined the Dem party for years.

I believe the same dread was lurking behind the decision not to press the Florida recount any harder, or that it at least contributed to the early indecision and uncertainty from the Dems and the later refusal to press the message about stolen elections. Fear of being seen as poor losers was an excuse. Admittedly, this latter argument is rather thin. But just imagine how differently the 2000 election controversy might have been framed if voting rights and GOP voter suppression had been made priority issues for years beforehand.

[ Parent ]
Thanks. (0.00 / 0)
That makes a lot of sense. I've often wondered why the vast untapped potential of non-voters isn't targeted more by the Democrats. The answer I usually get is that it takes too many resources for too little return. That has never seemed like a good longterm strategy to me. Your background gives a better explanation.

I was frustrated in 2004 by having 3 different GOTV operations running in my town: the Dem Party, Move On, and America Comes Together (?), none of whom could legally coordinate with one another. Seemed like a lot of wasted energy and duplication to me.  But the 527's kept saying that they were reaching out to people who were ignored by the Dems.

As for 2000, I remember reading Greg Palast's stories about voter purges in FLA during Novemeber while the wrangling was going on. No US media picked up on it. Again I wondered why the Dems weren't running with those stories.


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Why didn't the media landscape change? (0.00 / 0)
Sunday talk shows continue to favour Republican or conservative guests over Democratic or liberal ones.  Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson have abyssmal ratings yet continue to have TV shows, while Keith Olbermann's stellar rise has not led to any attempt to copy him.

The NY Times publishes pro-surge pro-war liberal hawks O'Hanlon and shithead, and lets them claim they are strong critics of Bush. 

Voters held congress more responsible than the President for the delay in funding the troops after his veto. 

The Democratic takeover of congress did not (as I hoped it would) engenger a shift in the media landscape.  The media is mostly stuck in 2002 in not 1998 mode. 

This will have to change before we can really expect to see the legislative victories we are seeking.  Those who control what appears to be right and wrong are more effective at getting their way than those that actually want to simply do right instead of wrong.

So, direct to the statistic you have dug up, that is awesome, but why didn't the reams of media analysts notice it rather than leaving it up to a blogger? 

Does this logic work in Congress (0.00 / 0)
When trying to whip votes, do you start at the least likely to vote for something and work away from the center? I mean, maybe that's been happening and that's part of the problem, but I mean if you can't carry the people on your side...

John McCain opposes the GI Bill.

self-identified Independents (0.00 / 0)
What's the data on independents changing their party affiliations to Dem during the relevant time periods of the study?  Specifically, I wonder if the excesses of the right drove independents to register, and self-identify, as democrats, which could skew the results a bit.  This need not undercut the claims that it was the progressive base that is responsible for the great democratic results in 2006.  But it would suggest another mechanism for growing that base.  I know several people who were independents because they thought the democratic party was leaning too far right who have realigned in the last several years.  Any ideas how large this reserve of not-yet democratic progressives may be?

Echoes what I was thinking (0.00 / 0)
There have been so many disenfranchised Democrats, be they Greens or just people who don't vote anymore, that maybe they dipped their toes back in.

[ Parent ]

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