Monday, February 18, 2008

TDS Blogger Roundtable: "Swing Voters Vs. Mobilizing the Base"

The Democratic Strategist begins another week long blogger "round-table" today with an introductory post by TDS Editor Ed Kilgore. The continuing topic will be the value of winning over "swing voters" as opposed to mobilizing a more loyal bloc of "base" voters.

To cite the most simplistic versions of a common argument, in one narrative of recent Democratic electoral performance, Bill Clinton broke the party’s long presidential drought by intelligently targeting swing voters. His successors, Al Gore and John Kerry (along with congressional Democrats in most cycles between 1994 and 2006), failed to completely follow the Clinton template. Republican abandonment of swing voters (politically and substantively) led to the big Democratic midterm victory of 2006.

A competing narrative suggests that Clinton’s pursuit of swing voters alienated the party base, blurred essential distinctions between the two parties, and forfeited the Democratic majority in Congress and in the states, while failing to produce a presidential majority. Gore and Kerry failed to match Bush’s relentless efforts to energize the Republican base, and Democratic fretting over swing voters made the party a weak and ineffective opposition party. That finally changed in 2006, when a netroots-led mobilization effort based on maximum partisan differentiation produced a Democratic counterpart to the base-driven Republican landslide of 1994.

It’s notable that each narrative diverges sharply over interpretation of the 1994 debacle, the 2000 “draw,” and the 2006 breakthrough. And there is naturally (though not universally) a strong ideological underpinning to the debate, with those on the party’s "left" typically disparaging swing-voter-focused campaigns and governing strategies as unprincipled and disloyal, and those in the "centrist" camp often arguing that base-focused campaigns cede critical ground to the GOP and make effective governing impossible.
Kilgore parses the history of "swing voter" strategies and the converse tactics of speaking more to the party base, and how each has effected past elections. Well worth the read. Upcoming "round-table" posts continue each day this week, with contributions from OpenLeft and Dailykos bloggers, as well as political organizer Robert Creamer, Northeastern University political scientist William Mayer, and members of the Democratic Leadership Council.

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