Thursday, June 14, 2012

State of Play: A Campaign In The Margins

As summer heats up, it's looking to be a hot, cruel one for Team Obama. First there was the spectacular "the  Private Sector is doing fine Gaffe" (of course the right argues this is not a gaffe at all--just a slip of speaking the truth!). Then there's the polls that show the "Blue Wall"--the important electoral states that Obama "ought to have" locked up starting to falter. Finally there's a barrage of bad news in terms of new jobs, the vitality of the economy, and, of course, the looming Euro-disaster.

Combine that with generally gloomy news about atrocities in Syria (which is a damned-if-you-do / damned-if-you don't style situation as far as any intervention goes) and domestic explosives being the main feature of the new Iraqi economy and it's easy to see why people might be unhappy in general.

But don't be fooled: this campaign--the multi-media ad-saturation blitz, the messaging, the dirty fighting ... it isn't about you. It's about people who, statistically, aren't reading this blog. The voters who will make the 2012 decision are not just on the edges of the parties: they're in the margins.

Independents? Not So Independent
The first thing you should know is that so-called 'Independents' often aren't. Although party affiliation has declined sharply many people who declare independent still track along party lines. They're just fed up with the specific party itself.

Moderates? Usually That Means Democrat ...
You could argue (snarkily) about why this is (because Republicans are all so radical, amirite!?) but the trend holds that:
In fact, the people who call themselves "moderates" aren't midway between the two parties. When you examine them as a group, you find that they look much more like liberals than conservatives. In every presidential election since 1988, the Democratic candidate has won more votes among moderates than the Republican candidate. According to National Election Studies (NES), 56 percent of moderates in 2004 associated themselves with the Democratic Party, while only 31 percent leaned Republican. 
The Currency of the Next Election Is Swing Voters
So if we aren't courting Independents or Moderates, who, exactly, has yet to make up their minds. It sure isn't Democrats or Republicans: the electorate is more partisan than ever! There vote comes down to so-called Swing Voters whose very definition is that they can be persuaded to move in either direction. Probably, in 2012, based on the economy.

Swing Voters (of which Reagan Democrats are an example--those who can "cross over" to one side from the other or from an undecided middle) are who the ads are trying to reach and target. When there's a bad jobs report? Don't expect massive movement in the polls: Democrats have already decided to vote for Obama no matter what the jobs report. If Romney says he eats babies? Well, that's a gaff, innit?

To be fair, Democrats, when hit with a new wave of bad news, whether or not they think a specific Obama policy is would have a pretty strong uphill battle to vote for Romney. Conversely, Romney, who is about as scandal proof as they come (legitimately: Mormons might have a earned a rep for being uptight but, as a result, no one thinks he's not a dedicated family man and community icon behaviorally speaking) is not going to come out with a crushing revelation (that already happened: RomneyCare, yeah?).

Basically the race is pretty fixed.

Who Are The Swing Voters?
Nate Silver (who right now puts Obama at a lean 60% favorite to win) has an interesting article on swing voters and states. FOX News thinks that a lot of Obama voters are mad at him and if there was a viable 3rd party people would vote for it (this is, however, predicated on replacing the House with random people from the phone-book which the speaker tells us people chose overwhelmingly--in other words it's based on Congress's depressingly and catastrophically low ratings). This quiz asks "What Type of Swing Voter Are You?" and follows it up with some incredibly bad questions which speaks, I think, to a slant in the site.

However there's one thing that's clear: the question that I think is going to be weighed is: Fiscal Conservatives and Liberal Social Policy. Santorum was a loser because he couldn't get the social policy right. Romney kinda does. Obama definitely has problems in the spending department. While the electorate doesn't want to see contraception banned many swing voters are very concerned that Obama's plans will not create jobs.

So for 2012, that's the swing.

What Do I Think?
I think it's pretty clear that Obama wants to have a discussion about social issues (and, uhm, foreign policy) and Romney wants to talk about nothing but May's jobs report from now until November unless something worse happens (Euro-meltdown?). The question is going to be how to make that discussion convincingly. I think micro-targeting comes into play here. There are a number of players who've been differently hit by the recession and/or social issues and knowing how to message and then (even more importantly) mobilize them will be crucial.

As an example it's the women's vote (social issues) vs. the white-male 'mancession' vote (economic issues with some social thrown in). For Hispanics the mix of social (immigration) and economic looks very different than for blacks, and so on. We're going to see the biggest MoneyBall election in history where deep statistics are the laser-guidance systems for the economic nuclear weapons. It'll be fascinating. FASCINATING!!

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