Friday, November 22, 2019

No, Nominating the Most Progressive Candidate Possible Will Not Necessarily Give the Democrats a Big Turnout Advantage

G.. Elliott Morris has a good reminder of this reality in a short article in the Economist. Sorry folks, there is not a magic left wing bullet that will defeat the other side.
"A theory of elections in America has taken root among pundits, especially on the left. It holds that partisan polarisation has pushed voters so far to their ideological sides that swing voters play little role in elections. In this view, winning is all about turning out the base. The New Republic, a left-leaning publication, has gone so far as to advise Democrats to nominate more progressive candidates that can stoke turnout among the progressives in their party. Such advice is wrong-headed. Public polling and political science provide ample evidence that moderates fare better than ideologues in American elections.
For much of the past century, scholars and politicians alike have believed that courting swing voters is the quickest path to electoral victory. Under this “median-voter theory”, posited in the American context by Anthony Downs in “An Economic Theory of Democracy” in 1957, voters cast ballots for whichever candidate best matches their ideology....
{But now that partisanship is up and swing voters down], some analysts argue...elections must be primarily about catering to the parties’ ideologically extreme bases. In such a world, politicians win simply by turning out as many voters from their side as possible. But while the median-voter theory has its problems, this new hypothesis is unfounded. So-called “mobilisation theory” posits that an extremist nominee could increase turnout among its party’s voters. It fails to account for the effects that political extremity has on turnout in the other party.
According to research from Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson of Stanford, extremist candidates for the House of Representatives between 2006 and 2014 did increase turnout in their own party, but they galvanised the other party’s voters even more. The authors suggest that nominating an extremist candidate increases turnout for the opposing party by between 4 and 10 percentage points more than turnout for their own party. Such candidates pay a tax on their extremity at the ballot box, because they drive opposition voters to the polling booth."
Got it? The other side gets to vote too and it is quite possible our hypothetical most progressive candidate will get more of them to the polls than folks from our side. Serious political strategy has to take these dynamic effects into account.
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