[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.