Patterico's Pontifications


Purple America

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 6:45 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The conventional wisdom says Americans are polarized, swing voters swing elections, and turnout helps the Democrats. According to political scientists Daron Shaw, Karen Kaufmann, and John Petrocik, authors of “Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths About American Voters” published by the Oxford University Press, the conventional wisdom may be wrong:

Myth 1: Americans are deeply polarized

“The concept of polarization implies that Americans increasingly hold extreme views: that there are a bunch of people on the liberal side and a bunch of people on the conservative side and very few people in the middle, which is not the case,” Shaw explains.

According to data from ANES [American National Election Studies] on self-professed voter ideology, moderates make up nearly 50 percent of the population, conservatives constitute about 30 percent and self-identified liberals about 15 percent.”

Myth 2: Swing voters swing elections

“Historically, the majority of Americans have maintained strong political party affiliations, Shaw says. And, data from ANES since 1952 show the number of people who think of themselves as either Republican or Democrat is as high as it has ever been.

“An election campaign for the most part is about activation, not persuasion,” Shaw explains. “Activation is about reminding people why they’re a Democrat or a Republican. The problem is the concept of activation is not the sexiest story of the election, so journalists tend to write about people who defect from their party and over-report the experiences of a small group, which distorts our understanding of the political landscape.”

Myth 3: [Last minute] Voter turnout favors Democrats

“Based on data from ANES, Shaw found that last-minute voters tend to reflect the prevailing political winds, and do not consistently favor Republicans or Democrats. For example, they voted for Reagan in 1984 and Clinton in 1996, and they split between Bush and Kerry in 2004.

That does not diminish the importance of get-out-the-vote efforts, Shaw warns. If one party mobilizes its supporters while the other does not, the former is more likely to win. But, mobilization often provokes counter-mobilization, which increases turnout without either side improving its relative position, he adds.”

The political winds this year favor Obama. Maybe.

PS – Wondering about the title of this post, Purple America? Now that you’ve considered these views of election “myths,” click the link for a second look at a county-by-county map of how America votes.


14 Responses to “Purple America”

  1. I’m wondering if Michael Barone would agree with this analysis – still intriguing, though.

    Dmac (e639cc)

  2. I don’t know but I think Barone is one of the best election analysts/demographers around. It sounds like you feel the same way.

    DRJ (7568a2)

  3. I am not purple.

    JD (5f0e11)

  4. “With the artist formerly but now called Prince in the background”


    reff (b68a4f)

  5. JD, until you release your medical records, Sullivan will be convinced that you might just be purple in places he would be interested in.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  6. SPQR – That was so wrong on so many levels. I puked a little in the back of my mouth.

    JD (5f0e11)

  7. I just watched Olberassface and Hayes from The Nation just sit there and flat out lie for 20 straight minutes. My IQ, it dropped.

    JD (5f0e11)

  8. It’s not really unconventional wisdom. GOTV was how Rove pulled out wins in 2002 and 2004. It’s why Obama’s most formidible asset is in GOTV operations…. assuming the kids still think he’s “cool.”

    Karl (1b4668)

  9. JD,

    You’re either going to have quit watching Olbermann or give us details. Your call.

    DRJ (7568a2)

  10. Karl,

    I don’t know who is right here but the authors seem to think the media believes this is the conventional wisdom.

    DRJ (7568a2)

  11. “the authors seem to think the media believes this is the conventional wisdom.”

    And on that, they may be right. But most of the media is stupid. People in politics — and Barone — would laugh. The GOP’s voter-vault and “72 hour project,” micro-targeting voters, Catalist — the pros know.

    Karl (1b4668)

  12. JD, yeah, I was nauseous just writing it …

    SPQR (26be8b)

  13. BTW, I didn’t intend my comments as a slight on the post itself.

    But the reason you don”t hear the points made in the post in the MSM largely boil down to two things: (1) MSM ignorance; and (2) among the informed, the realiziation that none of it is as juicy as a story about Bristol Palin or Jeremiah Wright.

    I wrote about this stuff at Protein Wisdom, and it tended to get few comments and draw little traffic, in comparison to other stuff I wrote about. Because it seems… academic, though it’s really 80% of the ball game. Elections are won by having more of your voters show up on election day. Blindingly obvious, but not deemed interesting by most people.

    Karl (1b4668)

  14. DRJ – sorry if this post is way past due, but you’re right about my opinions regarding Barone. He has a remarkable track record, and calls all the elections exactly as he sees them, right down the line, regardless of whatever network he happens to be working for at the moment.

    Dmac (e639cc)

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