John Sides had an interesting post concerning the importance of turnout in the 2014 election for Democrats. The post concerned Sasha Issenberg’s article in the New Republic entitled “How the Democrats Can Avoid Going Down This November” and responses to the article. Here are the key paragraphs from Sides’ post:
So here is where I come down in this debate. No one disagrees that “turnout matters,” and of course Democrats should work hard at turning out Democratic voters in 2014. This is what made Issenberg’s piece and Bonier’s analysis so interesting.
The question is how much turnout matters. My sense is that commentators still put too much emphasis on it. That is, there is not enough grappling with what changes in the electorate do not explain — such as, perhaps, the majority of Republican seat gains in 2010. There is not enough grappling with how Democrats did so well in 2006 despite a midterm electorate, as political scientist Michael McDonald has noted. For more, see Mark Mellman’s four excellent columns on this, and especially political scientist Seth Hill’s research.
Perhaps there is too much emphasis placed on the importance of turnout, but I find Mellman’s posts on the importance of persuasion as unconvincing and self-serving. It’s trite but true that election results depend on who votes: one candidate’s supporters or the other candidate’s supporters (assuming a two candidate contest). If you want to win, then you need to ensure that more of your candidate’s supporters vote than supporters of the other candidate. How do you do that?
First, you need to identify potential voters. This is difficult because you’re dealing with a constantly changing set of people. There are, of course, those voters from the previous general election that are a part of the potential electorate, but some won’t vote, have died, moved out of the electoral district, been incarcerated, or are otherwise disenfranchised. So, good records are important
After determining the potential voters, you need to identify those individuals who are likely to support your candidate. Party identification, if people register as partisans, is good indication of their voting preference or predisposition. When that is not available, records of their voting history are important. One of Issenberg’s more important contributions in his article is the distinction between “reflex voters” and “unreliable voters.” Reflex voters vote in both presidential and non-presidential elections. Unreliable voters are present for presidential elections, but not non-presidential elections.
The chart notes the important characteristics of each type of voter:
The unreliable voters appear very likely to vote for Democratic candidates; so they need to be identified and mobilized. They also need to be persuaded to vote for the Democratic candidate.
Issenberg acknowledges that it’s not just mobilization (turnout) that’s important. You also need to persuade:
The “it will all come down to turnout” meme misapprehends get-out-the-vote operations as a form of ratification—the final frenzied push to ensure that the people whom candidates have persuaded all year actually cast a ballot. The new playbook on the left, as made evident in the Bannock Street budget, inverts that logic: Democratic Senate campaigns will be designed to mobilize their way into contention, then persuade their way across the finish line.
Furthermore, Issenberg recognizes that it’s not turnout versus persuasion. It takes both for a candidate to be successful in receiving more votes than his opponent. It’s the order of the effort: mobilization followed by persuasion.
To nobody’s surprise, that is the strategy employed by Turn Texas Blue (TTB) in its support for Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial campaign. First, identify the unreliable voters and mobilize them by explaining how the election of Wendy Davis is important to their interests. That is, identify and make contacts. Then, persuade them to act on that knowledge by casting their vote for Davis in November. We’ll see if the strategy is effective. Realizing, of course, that other factors influence the outcome of a gubernatorial election.