Steve Rosenthal on Election Myths and Realities

Steve Rosenthal, CEO of ACT in 2004 and former political director of the AFL-CIO, has recently penned an article about Kerry's defeat in Ohio. Most of the article is spent dispelling some important myths that have taken hold post-election. Each is described after the jump.
For starters:The first myth: Many more churchgoing voters flocked to the polls this year, driven by the Bush "moral values" and the gay marriage referendum.

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 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.


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.

Tags: Activism (all tags)



It is also possible
that thr proportion of the vote could decrease while the actual number of voters increases...

Using turnout as a percentage of the total vote does not show the percentage turnout increase amoungst certain groups.

So it is possible for turnout to increase as a percentage of conservative voters but to decrease as a percentage of total voters...if there was an increase in the total number of voters from 2000 to 2004.

by Nazgul35 2004-12-06 12:11PM | 0 recs
Link (for WaPo non-subscribers)
This is an excellent article.

Non-subscribers can read the full story here, the "printer friendly" version.

For all diarists/commenters out there, it's worth noting that subscription sites often don't shield their "printable versions" from non-subscribers.

by Winger 2004-12-06 12:29PM | 0 recs
The Ukrainian people refused to allow what they viewed as a flawed election to determine their new government. In response to questions of election fraud, they took to the streets and refused to leave until the incumbent government agreed to redo the elections.

Four years ago in Yugoslavia, the tyrant Milosevic claimed to have won the election. The people disagreed and poured into the capital, Belgrade, and demanded Milosevic leave office. They succeeded in forcing Milosevic to step down, and he is now standing trail in an international court for war crimes.

Why don't Americans do the same thing? Why aren't we marching on Washington and New York to demand answers to questions of voter suppression and other irregularities in Ohio. Isn't that what democracy is all about?

One of my favorite singers, Amy Martin, posted a moving response to the election on her blog, and I wanted to share it with you - read Amy's blog

by AllisonRaven 2004-12-06 12:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Activism
I agree.

This is all horse crap. We won Ohio, and we won Florida, but the election was stolen.

Moreover, the opinion polling data in reality is never more accurate than 5% of the stated figures, and many times its off by 9% or more. The rest of the polarity in the 2004 race can be fully accounted for by one sided corporate media propaganda in favor of Bush.

Americans are complacent and immobilized because of the constant stream of disinformation about nearly everything but expeically recently this election.

To have a blogger on the democratic side repeating this horse crap about where we went wrong in our message and stands on the issues just compounds the damage.

Further, continuing in this vein, when a full 20% of the population believes the election was stolen will just result in the loss to the Democrats of more of their base.

Judging by Steve Rosenthal's input a large of the Democratic establishment are not only in a state of denial they are in a state of self victimization. A large percentage of the 20% who are not fooled by the bogus election results and the media mis-information campaign will not be vopting for democratic candidates in national elections again, whidh the party complacent presume they will do.

Here is a message which contains some facts I think all of you think you know, and you do know the common place among them, but I bet you do not every single one of these simple facts.

For a fresh dose of reality reconsider them in total.

   20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA
   by Angry Girl

   Did you know....

   1.  80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies:  

Diebold and ES&S.

   2.  There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry.

   3.  The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers.

   4.  The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

   5.  Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S.  He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines.

   6.  Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.

   7.  Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.

   8.  ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes.

   9.  Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes.  In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming
>out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.

   10.  Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail.

   11.  Diebold is based in Ohio.

   12.  Diebold employed 5 convicted felons as senior managers and developers to help write the central compiler computer code that counted
50% of the votes in 30 states.,2645,61640,00.html

   13.  Jeff Dean, Diebold's Senior Vice-President and senior programmer on Diebold's central compiler code, was convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree.

   14.  Diebold Senior Vice-President Jeff Dean was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to >evade detection over a period of 2 years.

   15.  None of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.

   16.  California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad.  Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be
hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it!  (See the movie here,2645,63298,00.html

   17.  30% of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.

   18.  All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.,2645,65757,00.html

   19.  The governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, is the President's brother.

   20.  Serious voting anomalies in Florida -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.,10801,97614,00.html

by leschwartz 2004-12-06 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Activism
Apparently there are many others who find the Ohio vote count less than credible.  Keith Olbermann, alone among television journalists actively following the election fraud story, has summarized the buzz thus far:
I think it's too early to start analyzing the dubious Ohio (or Florida) vote counts and extrapolating theories as to why Democrats "lost".  The Ohio vote count is still in the realm of conjecture.
by roserock 2004-12-06 05:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Activism
I agree they stole it again.  But, Kerry conceded.  Blaming the citizens for not taking to streets is wrong.  Why?  Kerry conceded.  I was one of the many volunteers who fought for Kerry before the Election.  I would have made my voice heard about the stolen election, but Kerry conceded.  People will not fight for a Leader who quits.  I am tried of our Democratic Leaders not fighting for what is right.  We need new leaders!!!!
by SRconbio 2004-12-06 09:35PM | 0 recs
Here's my opinion
First, they may have stole it.  Probably not.  In any case, it's probably unprovable either way, that the election was stolen or not, due to the lack of a paper trail.

Second, if they did, in fact, steal it, the only constructive recourse would be a course of action that would likely lead to a full scale civil war.  What could Kerry do?  Unless he had ironclad proof that it was stolen, not conceding would do nothing.  The only thing that Kerry could have done would be pout and whine, which would accoplish nothing but Sore Loserman joke variants, or to literally start an armed rebellion.  Ukranie was lucky-the courts sided with the challenger and the "winner" was willing to negotiate because it was clear that the election was stolen-but even then, civil war was always a possibility.  It's not clear in the least that the US election was in fact stolen, the courts are in Bush's pocket, and Bush certainly wouldn't negotiate.

Plus, I think Kerry truely believes he lost.  He also wants to run again in 2008, and saw what happened to Gore after he contested a much closer election.

by Geotpf 2004-12-07 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Activism
That is an excellent point - it's hard to take to the streets when leader is not willing to fight.  But how do we get stronger leaders?  And as concerned citizens, what do we do?
by AllisonRaven 2004-12-14 11:14AM | 0 recs
Important distinction
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.

This isn't that difficult, and I don't see why so many progressives attempt to hide the fact that evangelicals turned out in record number.

Every bit of the turnout that was created by ACT was equalized by a stronger turnout of evangelicals. ACT certainly didn't expect that "portion" of the electorate to be evangelicals, or they would have set their goal (which they exceeded) higher.

Evangelicals turned out in record number. Sure, so did our Demcratic base, but that near-equalizing "portion" doesn't negate the initial fact, and no one except the Republican operatives believed it would happen.

Because it did, Bush won.

by Jerome Armstrong 2004-12-06 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Important distinction
I;m convinced you're right in your response, Jerome. Our gains in absolute vote totals from high-Dem, historically underperforming (ie, <60% turnout) precincts should have been enough to win, if GOP vote totals had been what they were in 2000. The GOP vote gains came primarily from ex-urban and rural voters, and the predominant social institutions in these areas are churches.

The other factor is that the Republicans think they were able to be more precise in targeting their voters in demographically mixed areas (like suburbs and ex-urbs).

This leaves us needing both to continue to build organizational strength in our base but also to find ways to identify, educate and mobilize voters in swing and even rural precincts.

In this sense, Rosenthal is right that its an issues problem.

I hate to say "they're both right," but as a great American once said, we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

by desmoulins 2004-12-06 01:39PM | 0 recs
Kind of
Start with a tie in 2000 (actually, since almost all Nader's vote most certainly went to Kerry, Kerry should have started up by several points).

Then, add +a bunch to Bush's side, and +a bunch to Kerry's side.  That is, both the left and the right increased turn out by about the same, rather large amount.

Obviously, this doesn't explain Bush's victory.  What we had was Gore voters who voted for Bush this time.  Not a lot, probably two to three percent.  But enough to change a three point Kerry win to a three point Bush win.

The only reason I can think of why they switched is by comparing what happened in the past four years with what happened to the four years prior to 2000.  That is, 9/11, war on terra, war in Iraq.

Bush succeeded in scaring about 5-6% of Gore's support (he got 47.something%, so divide by 2, so 3ish% total) into voting for him.

by Geotpf 2004-12-06 02:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Important distinction
That's true, but if everyone turned out in equally grater the numbers, it was actually the voters who switched sides that made the difference. If evangelicals increased at the same rate as Democrats, then neither made the difference. Some evidence suggests that this was white women, especially those living in cities.
by Chris Bowers 2004-12-06 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Important distinction
But the point is, that turnout among Bush's base exceeded expectations, even ACT's. They accounted for some of the 2000 votes switching in their targets, they didn't account for the much higher turnout of their base.
by Jerome Armstrong 2004-12-06 04:04PM | 0 recs
Then ACT screwed up
Both sides increased turnout in equal numbers-which means that if the election didn't go the same way as 2000 (which it didn't), that there were many many many more Gore to Bush 2004 voters than Bush 2000 to Kerry voters (and there definitely were some of the latter).
by Geotpf 2004-12-07 10:36AM | 0 recs
democrats maxed out
i believe that the democrats maxed out this year and when republicans also max out we can`t compete.we need to create more democrats or hold down republican turnout to win a national election.the baby boomers are getting older and more conservative.
in times of   a very poor economy we can win an occasional election but since 1950 it`s pretty much been republicans controling the presidency except for occasional lapses, such as bill clinton.i don`t think democrats will get back in until 2012(unless bush totally screws up the world), seems like 3 terms is the max the country likes to give one party.
by JOEL1954 2004-12-06 02:23PM | 0 recs
Re: democrats maxed out
I've been thinking along the same lines. Long-term, I don't think the Democrats have maxed out, but I do think we pretty much maxed out for this election, given we only began to organize this effort around mid- to late 2003.

That's one reason the loss is so heartbreaking. The worst pResident in US history, yet he was impossible to defeat! Almost enough to make you lose faith in democracy, but as Winston Churchill is purported to have said, "democracy is the worst form of government we know of - except for all the others."

Long-term, though, we can do better. Honing our message will help. As Thomas Frank and Jim Hightower have said, we need to counter the GOP's cultural populism with genuine economic populism. John Edwards has a good message in this regard; Kerry just didn't let him use it enough.

We can also drive GOP turnout down by going negative. Unlike the GOP, we don't have to lie or distort; the truth about these guys is damning enough. But we shouldn't hold back as the Kerry campaign did just because "voters don't like 'negative' campaigns."

by Mathwiz 2004-12-07 09:08AM | 0 recs
Evangelicals Won the Election--Myth!
They may have pounded doors in record numbers for Dippy, but here are a few numbers to show why he won.  In two words,"white women":

In 2002 W won white women by 1% point (49-48)
In 2004 W won white women by 11 pts   (55-44)

Thats a 4 million vote swing, enough to turn a 500,000 vote loss in 2002 to a 3.5 million vote win in 2004.  No other category of race shows a similar swing.  Minorities voted solidly for Kerry.  

by Muy Loco 2004-12-06 02:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Evangelicals Won the Election--Myth!
My point would be, that it was those white women, those "Moral Moms" that were the extra turnout changing that dynamic.
by Jerome Armstrong 2004-12-06 04:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Evangelicals Won -Myth!
but Chris says it was mostly
white women in the cities.
to me that suggests scared moms,
not Moral Moms -- 9/11. terra, Iraq
(as said on another post).
by Woody 2004-12-07 08:13AM | 0 recs
Soccer Moms
They were scared shitless that "teh terrists" were gonna blow up thier kids elementary school.  It's an irrational, illogical fear, but I guess being a parent does that to you.
by Geotpf 2004-12-07 10:33AM | 0 recs
Just One Point
Just one point is huge.  Just one point wins it all. It doesn't take much... just one point.
by ignatzmouse 2004-12-06 03:46PM | 0 recs
We just posted a piece at RightWATCH on this
We have posted something on the RightWATCH email list, which is a low frequency update on interesting developments within the political Right.  Just go to to see the home page for the email list (not a blog yet, that will happen soon).

And for the post, which addresses some of the voting machine issues, see the "2004 Election Revisited" post here:

-rich cowan

by leftlink 2004-12-06 04:36PM | 0 recs
A more compelling argument by Partridge
Ernest Partridge, co-editor of the "Crisis Papers"  makes a compelling argument for those of us who know that John Kerry won the election.

Democrats are hard-pressed to come up with reasons for Kerry's "loss".  There is NO clear-cut reason Bush would have or even could have won.  The signs of Kerry's impending victory were everywhere prior to the election; the warnings of possible vote corruption went largely unheeded.  No matter what the margin of Kerry's victory, or any other Democratic victory in the future, Diebold et al can fix any election so that their candidate will win by just enough votes.  Read the Partridge article and see the truth.

by roserock 2004-12-06 07:38PM | 0 recs
Too Close
In an election this close, there is no single factor anyone can point to and definitively say, that is the reason Bush won!

Evangelicals? Yes, their turnout was up. Rove got his extra four million, as far as I can tell. That could be said to account for the difference if everthing else was going to be the same anyway.

Married white women? Yes, they swung from Gore to Bush somewhat. Again, that could account for the difference if everything else were the same. (Also keep in mind that the above two categories aren't mutually exclusive.)

Voter suppression or fraud? Definitely a factor; probably not a decisive one (this time). But put all of the above together, and you can see where 9 million extra GOP voters came from.

At least people aren't blaming third parties for "stealing" Democratic votes this time. In fact, this time we have Nader in NH, and the Greens and Libertarians in OH, to thank for trying to keep our election honest!

But no single group can claim credit. There were a lot of differences between 2000 and 2004. Some worked in Kerry's favor, some in Bush's. Trying to isolate the factor which gave Bush his "mandate" is as much of a fool's errand as trying to isolate the factor which resulted in Gore's electoral college loss in 2000: Fraud, Nader, and a poor campaign all played a part, but no single factor was decisive.

by Mathwiz 2004-12-07 08:54AM | 0 recs


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