More On The Netroots Difference
by Chris Bowers, Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 05:11:49 PM EDT
Consider one of the great complaints lodged against the netroots and the blogosphere: we preach to the choir instead of trying to reach the swing. Well, when looking at voter enthusiasm this election cycle, it doesn't appear that preaching to the choir, and getting the choir excited, appears to be all that bad of an idea. Look at this recent data from Pew that measures voter enthusiasm by partisan identification (I can't post the graph because we are switching servers right now):Given a lot of thought to election:
2006: Dems 59%, Reps 48%
2002: Dems 46%, Reps 47%
1998: Dems 40%, Reps 50%
1994: Dems 40%, Reps 50%
More enthusiastic about voting than previous cycles
2006: Dems 51%, Reps 33%
2002: Dems 40%, Reps 44%
1998: Dems 38%, Reps 42%
1994: Dems 30%, Reps 45% Many will try to argue that the change in voter attention and enthusiasm are due to what are perceived to be improved Democratic prospects this year. However, Pew notes that Democratic enthusiasm was high even before it became CW that Democrats would do well this year. From the same study: Notably, the ongoing scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley has not had much of an impact on either the engagement or enthusiasm of Democratic and Republican voters. The Democratic advantages on both dimensions were about the same after Foley resigned as before the congressman stepped down. However, the idea of driving up excitement in the base, and resources from the base, by preaching to the choir is precisely the idea behind ideological and partisan media. From a 2005 study by the New Politics Institute:Let's review the issue of targeting. Our political objectives require us to think in these terms: base voters and swing voters, right? But our commercial success requires us to target the most valuable customers: the customers who spend the most money and can be acquired at the lowest customer acquisition cost.
Reaching swing voters and targeting the most [politically] profitable consumers [i.e., the unconverted] actually may or may not be the right thing to do in the short term. But successfully reaching already politically committed consumers can be achieved by reaching citizen customers over the long term.
Let's look at the conservative movement. The conservative movement energized and modified a base conservative constituency to generate significant revenue and build powerful media organizations. The commercial power of Rush, of Sean Hannity, and of Ann Coulter, made them mainstream media figures. These energetic base consumers powered the fast growing media companies of the hard right conservative movement and enabled them to then, in turn, on a business level, profitably target swing voter markets and influence mainstream media over the long term.
As we seek to build a progressive media able and visible way that then in turn enables us to preach to the unconverted. It's politics but it's also just smart business.Democratic enthusiasm had seen a massive upward jump even before people thought Democrats were going to make large gains this cycle. It does not at all strike me as coincidental that the increase in Democratic voter enthusiasm took place concurrently with the rise of progressive media. I'd like to see someone try to explain how Democratic leaders have done a much better job firing up the base in 2005-2006 than they did in previous election cycles, especially since we have been frequently told by many in the Democratic leadership that we have to target swing voters instead of the base. Unless you are talking about a netroots figure like Howard Dean, such a contorted, hypocritical argument should be good for a laugh. The difference in Democratic excitement is not because of anything the leadership has done, but rather is the result of the rapid rise of progressive media. At the heart of progressive media, with the largest audience and the widest reach, is the progressive blogosphere. No one has been accused of needlessly preaching to the choir more than the blogosphere, but considering the vastly different levels of excitement among our base, I guess it wasn't such a bad idea to finally have someone doing that after all.
For a long time, the incessant focus upon the "swing" kept Democrats from viewing their own base as a worthwhile target, and kept form them viewing seemingly solid-red districts as worthwhile of any attention. Much, if not most, of the new found focus on the base, and upon districts than were generally abandoned by the Democratic infrastructure, was generated by the netroots. Both Markos and The Nation have good pieces today on the essential role the netroots played in helping to expand the playing field this election cycle. I think Markos's title, We Expanded the Playing Field, is particularly appropriate. I have been an advocate of the 435 district strategy ever since I have been blogging on MyDD, and it is important to remember how the political establishment once roundly mocked me for taking that position. After the OH-02 special election last summer, people stopped mocking us pretty fast. If the establishment wants to take credit for expanding the playing field, rather than only and ever focusing on the swing, I can dig up a lot more articles over the past few years where they criticized the likes of me and other netroots figures for taking just that position.
We expanded the playing field. We fired up the base. If the netroots and the progressive movement never appeared on the scene, the entire Democratic infrastructure would probably still be focused exclusively on about 10% of the electorate. Once again, the netroots and the progressive movement have made the difference.
Update: The DCCC has now bought media in WA-05. That is a part of the field the netroots absolutely played a role in extending.