Steve Rosenthal on Election Myths and Realities
by Chris Bowers, Mon Dec 06, 2004 at 11:58:44 AM EST
Reality: The 2004 election brought no increase whatsoever in the portion of the voting electorate who attend church on a weekly basis or more often than that, according to exit polls. In Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. Nationwide, Bush improved his vote among weekly churchgoers by just one point over 2000, while increasing his support among those who don't go to church by four points.
So how could religious voters have been the basis of Bush's victory, at least in Ohio? Answer: They weren't.Belatedly, the original, and now damaging, meme that "values voters" were the difference in the election is being openly challenged by a variety of courses. I tend to agree with these challenges, including Rosenthal's, but I also like the results the original meme is producing, so I am torn.
Second:Second myth: The Bush campaign won by mobilizing GOP strongholds and suppressing turnout in Democratic areas.
Reality: Turnout in Democratic-leaning counties in Ohio was up 8.7 percent while turnout in Republican-leaning counties was up slightly less, at 6.3 percent. John Kerry bested Bush in Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland) by 218,000 votes -- an increase of 42,497 over Gore's 2000 effort. In Stark County (Canton) -- a bellwether lost by Gore -- Kerry won by 4,354.It is easy to become discouraged after a loss like 2004, especially if you worked as a volunteer or paid staffer. However, as Rosenthal points out, Bush's victory should not obscure just how remarkable our voter registration, voter contact and GOTV efforts were in swing states this year. Kerry improved on Gore's 2000 Ohio vote total by 550,000 votes--an increase of more than 25% is a state with below average population growth! Our ground game was remarkable this year, and we need to continue implementing, working to improve, and supplementing our current ground game with other forms of voter contact and GOVT (click here for my suggestion on this front). We should not abandon our ground game in the belief that it did not work.
Also, since there were some pretty clear examples of voter suppression in Democratic neighborhoods (see here and here for two examples), I can only imagine Rosenthal's point is that there was not enough voter suppression to swing the election. Clearly, there was some.
Moving along:Third myth: A wave of newly registered Republican voters in fast-growing rural and exurban areas carried Bush to victory.
Reality: Among Ohio's rural and exurban voters, Bush beat Kerry by just five points among newly registered voters and by a mere two points among infrequent voters (those who did not vote in 2000).I'm not sure why Rosenthal calls this a myth. If Kerry lost among new voters in fast growing rural and exurban counties, then he lost and this defeat contributed to Bush's victory. While Kerry did better among these voters than he did with long-term residents in these areas, he still lost. This is definitely a problem.
Finally:Fourth myth: Republicans ran a superior, volunteer-driven mobilization effort.
Reality: When we asked new voters in rural and exurban areas who contacted them during this campaign, we learned that they were just as likely to hear from the Kerry campaign and its allies as from the Bush side. (In contrast, regular voters reported more contact from the GOP.)
Then perhaps it was conservative religious groups or pro-life organizations or the National Rifle Association that reached these new Republican voters? No, according to our post-election polling; only 20 percent of exurban and rural Ohio voters reported that they had been contacted by someone from their church, and only slightly higher percentages were contacted by conservative organizations. In contrast, these same voters in the least unionized regions of Ohio were more likely to have been contacted by a labor union.
Much has been made of the Republican effort to turn out voters through personal contact. Yet our poll shows that voters in these Republican counties were just as likely to be visited by a Kerry supporter at their homes as by a Bush supporter. Fewer than 2 percent were visited by a Bush supporter whom they knew personally.
Among the voters the Republicans targeted, the Democrats went toe-to-toe, knock-to-knock and phone call-to-phone call with them. And rest assured, in urban areas Republicans could not come close to matching the Democratic ground effort.Rosenthal makes a compelling case for the canvassing strength of the Democratic-affiliated 527's, but I think he downplays two important factors in the GOP mobilization effort.
First, he notes that "only 20 percent of exurban and rural Ohio voters reported that they had been contacted by someone from their church." This leaves open the obvious question: what percentage of rural and exurban voters were contacted by someone from their church? It has been known for some time now that churches are keystones in conservative voter contact and GOTV efforts, and the impact of this type of organizing needs to be better understood, as it might have been more than enough to make up the gap between liberal and conservative 527's.
Second, he writes that "fewer than 2 percent [of voters in rural and exurban Ohio counties that Bush won by more than 17 points] were visited by a Bush supporter whom they knew personally." Again, my response is that the power of these two percent should not be dismissed. This aspect of Republican voter contact and GOTV could have meant fifty thousands of extra votes for Bush in Ohio alone. That is obviously an important difference, especially in a close election.
Rosenthal goes on to argue that Kerry lost Ohio mainly as a result of issues rather than organization. It is not surprising for an organization man to make such an argument. However, rather than just issues being factors, it seems clear that small Bush victories among new voters in rural and exurban counties, very real voter suppression, extensive political involvement from churches and small-scale family / friend / House Party GOTV efforts were all factors. Thus, rather than conceptualizing Kerry's defeat both in Ohio and nationwide as the result of one or two overriding causes, Kerry's defeat can perhaps best be described as death by a thousand paper cuts.