Campaign Implosions and Close Races Disprove 'Swing Voter' Mythology


In response to After Bob Dole Accepts Greg Orman’s Apology For Clown-Car Comment, Orman Denies He Apologized:

I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out, but Orman insulting Bob Dole in Kansas, and then issuing a mealy-mouthed self-destructing non-apology in a transparent effort to manipulate both sides of the partisan divide, should be fatal for him.  Orman is a caricature of the “independent” con artist, a stealth Democrat who hires hard-core Democrat operatives for his campaign while pretending that he floats above both parties and might not caucus with either of them.  He’s been trying to skip through the election by simply refusing to answer any tough question put to him, because refusing to give definitive answers before the election is what makes you an “independent” free-spirited candidate.

But everyone in Kansas should have gotten the picture after the Democrats enlisted the help of a friendly judge to sand-blast their own pitiful candidate off the ballot and make room for Orman.  At this point, any conservative or truly “independent” voter who votes for Orman is deluding themselves, or misrepresenting themselves to pollsters.  The idea of anyone who values independence voting for stealth Democrats, or declared Democrats who claim they’ll be Barack Obama’s worst nightmare when they get to Washington, is ludicrous.  As I’ve been asking the self-described indy voters since the dawning of the Age of Obama: what, exactly, do you believe Democrats will allow you to remain independent of, if you don’t strip them of the power they’ve been using for the past six years to beat the private sector and individual liberty into the ground?  What “moderation” could you possibly expect to see from the party of Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi?

We pundit types look at home-stretch gaffes like Orman’s, or Tom Harkin creeping out on Joni Ernst, or any of the other gaffe daffodils currently floating in the political breeze, and think: This is going to change some people’s minds about the candidate.  I’m not sure that actually happens as much as the conventional terms of political analysis suggest.  What actually happens is that supporters locked into a candidate become discouraged by campaign stumbles and stay home, especially if they get the impression he’s thrown away his chances for victory.  Conversely, the locked-in supporters of the opposing candidate are energized by the perception of weakness, or perhaps enraged by beyond-the-pale comments.  It’s more about turnout than persuasion, for an increasingly large window of time before the election.  

As for the true “swing voters,” they tend to be fickle souls who don’t follow the campaigns very closely, and make up their minds based on headline-grabbing last-minute events, which is why the shadowy political art of the “late hit” has been honed into a form of ninjutsu.  Even some of those swing voters are better described as extremely soft supporters of one candidate or the other, who abandon ship if the guy all their friends talk about voting for self-destructs at the end of the race.

I think that’s why so many of the awful candidates Democrats ran in this election cycle are still competitive, despite the powerful national forces pushing that “Republican wave.”  There’s a lot of automatic base voting going on, and the big question is base turnout, not capturing the middle ground.  Automated base voters don’t switch their votes to the other part if their designated candidate implodes, but they might stay home, and that’s all it takes to produce a slightly-outside-the-margin-of-error win.  The real neutron-star campaign collapses, like Wendy Davis in the Texas gubernatorial race, were unlikely candidates who never had much to run on anyway, in states where the Democrat voting base is relatively weak.  For the most part, we’re looking at a slew of races that lean Republican, after Democrat missteps that should have sunk anyone running in the shadow of an unpopular President.  We’re looking at races where one poll says the Republican is leading outside the margin of error, but then another appears that says “not so fast.” 

Maybe all those tight-race polls are off, and that Republican wave will roll in like a tsunami on Tuesday.  If not, I suspect we’re going to hear a lot of mainstream-media analysis about how tight the races were, and how the Republicans have no mandate to govern; they won’t really control the Senate even if they’ve got 55 or more seats, because so many of those seats were delivered in 2-point squeaker elections.  I would suggest Republicans, especially the Establishment honchos, get the obligatory Wednesday-morning triumphalism out of the way quickly, and begin asking themselves some hard questions about why those wins were close.  And if they lose, even if it’s the kind of loss where they still take the Senate but perform well below expectations, they’re going to get some tough questions from the press… while conservative voters tap their feet impatiently and wait for the answers.


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