28 votes

An unsettling new theory: there is no "swing voter"

24 comments

  1. [8]
    psi
    Link
    This meshes well with my belief that galvanizing your core voters matters more than roping-in moderates (or alternatively, that charisma, as perceived by your ideological peers, is the only thing...

    This meshes well with my belief that galvanizing your core voters matters more than roping-in moderates (or alternatively, that charisma, as perceived by your ideological peers, is the only thing that matters).

    Consider the 2016 election. When we look at the Pew Research Center poll breaking down votes by ideological lean, we see that voters split roughly evenly about conservative, liberal, and mixed ideology. At first glance, this poll seems to be a strong rebuttal to Bitecofer’s thesis -- after all, the mixed ideology bloc was just as large as the other two -- but when we dissect that bloc, we see that mixed ideology voters still split roughly evenly along Trump/Clinton lines (and in fact, actually preferred Trump). (This raises a tangential question: was Trump truly perceived as close to the center as Clinton, or did people just recalibrate their idea of the center such that it lay exactly equidistance from the two candidates by definition?) Regardless, Clinton's attempt to cajole the moderate vote failed spectacularly.

    However, the 2016 election offers another lesson. Of those eligible to vote, only 55% did (a turnout comparable to other presidential elections in recent history). If we assume that the remaining 45% of eligible voters can also be roughly broken down equally into liberal, conservative, and mixed ideology blocs, then we must conclude that 15% of a candidate's core voters are not voting for their preferred candidate! The solution to voter apathy shouldn't be for candidates to appeal to an indecisive center (of questionable neutrality) but to pander to their base -- and to pander as much as possible. Frankly, Trump's pandering to the far right is the reason I suspect he won in 2016. (And parenthetically, Bernie's pandering to progressives is why I believe he's best posed to beat Trump in 2020, even though he's not my preferred candidate.) Demagoguery resonates stronger than anything else.

    17 votes
    1. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Mostly I think people conflate being “moderate” with being “independent.” It’s pretty clear that swing voters aren’t swinging because they’re between the two parties but because they’re cross...

      Consider the 2016 election. When we look at the Pew Research Center poll breaking down votes by ideological lean, we see that voters split roughly evenly about conservative, liberal, and mixed ideology. At first glance, this poll seems to be a strong rebuttal to Bitecofer’s thesis -- after all, the mixed ideology bloc was just as large as the other two -- but when we dissect that bloc, we see that mixed ideology voters still split roughly evenly along Trump/Clinton lines (and in fact, actually preferred Trump). (This raises a tangential question: was Trump truly perceived as close to the center as Clinton, or did people just recalibrate their idea of the center such that it lay exactly equidistance from the two candidates by definition?) Regardless, Clinton's attempt to cajole the moderate vote failed spectacularly.

      Mostly I think people conflate being “moderate” with being “independent.”

      It’s pretty clear that swing voters aren’t swinging because they’re between the two parties but because they’re cross pressured between the strong positions of both parties. In other words, you’ve got people who really love tax cuts, but worry about the well being of gay or minority people. Then you’ve got people who want more public spending, but really don’t like gays or minorities.

      They don’t swing based on how close to the middle you are, but based on which of those issues seem most salient at the time. If the economy is in the shit, they’ll vote for the Democrat. If the economy seems to be okay but the minorities or women are getting uppity, they’ll swing the other way.

      It’s mostly exogenous which things will be more salient, but what the media will choose to focus on probably pushes one way or another. Lots of puff pieces on how well/badly the economy is doing might push things, and bits about how the world is in chaos and vaguely coded “brown peril” stuff will too.

      5 votes
    2. skybrian
      Link Parent
      I largely agree but I'll point out that a vote counts the same whether the voter is mildly enthusiastic or "galvanized." Increasing turnout is still about numbers. It seems like the people posting...

      I largely agree but I'll point out that a vote counts the same whether the voter is mildly enthusiastic or "galvanized." Increasing turnout is still about numbers. It seems like the people posting a lot about politics were probably going to vote anyway?

      4 votes
    3. [5]
      smoontjes
      Link Parent
      Here, conservative and liberal is synonymous. What does it mean in the US?

      voters split roughly evenly about conservative, liberal, and mixed ideology

      Here, conservative and liberal is synonymous. What does it mean in the US?

      1 vote
      1. Grawlix
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        The issue is that America has a somewhat limited mainstream political spectrum, especially since being one of the two major power in the Cold War led to a long-lasting stigma against socialism....

        The issue is that America has a somewhat limited mainstream political spectrum, especially since being one of the two major power in the Cold War led to a long-lasting stigma against socialism.

        So, the Republicans are conservative/right-wing.

        The Democrats are liberal, which I believe is fairly consistent with what other parts of the world call liberal—still pro-capitalism and pro-business, but supportive of progressive taxation, regulations, and social safety programs. Also, somewhat more progressive on social issues, though typically riding the wave of public sentiment rather than leading it.

        And that was pretty much the extent of it. Very recently, social democrats have made headway into the Democratic Party, but they are the extreme end of it, and often face a ton of resistance from their own party. For instance, until he sought the Democratic nomination for president, Sanders was an independent, because he was left of the Democrats. In Europe, Sanders would be a bog-standard social democrat, just a bit left of center, but that represents a pretty significant shift in the US, to the point that some people just don't have the vocabulary for it. He's been called a full-on socialist or even a communist. To be fair, he even calls himself a democratic socialist, which is actually distinct from a social democrat, and doesn't describe his position as well as social democrat does.

        11 votes
      2. Loire
        Link Parent
        Depending on whether the speaker is immersed in the Fox sphere or not lineral ranges from "everything left of fascism" to corporate/moderate Democrats.

        Depending on whether the speaker is immersed in the Fox sphere or not lineral ranges from "everything left of fascism" to corporate/moderate Democrats.

        5 votes
      3. NaraVara
        Link Parent
        Generally “liberal,” In the American context, means “social democrat.”

        Generally “liberal,” In the American context, means “social democrat.”

        5 votes
      4. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        I've always assumed the conservative outlook to be about preservation of the status quo – keeping things as they are, not letting them progress for the sake of order – while the liberal outlook to...

        I've always assumed the conservative outlook to be about preservation of the status quo – keeping things as they are, not letting them progress for the sake of order – while the liberal outlook to be about progress and change without consideration for how things are right now.

        Not saying this is correct, but I would be very surprised to find out it means something different, considering how well the names correspond with the outlooks.

        2 votes
  2. [5]
    moocow1452
    Link
    If the premise is that people don't vote unless they are activated to, and the flux is how much of your tribe you can activate vs how many undecideds you can flip, that means that the foreseeable...

    If the premise is that people don't vote unless they are activated to, and the flux is how much of your tribe you can activate vs how many undecideds you can flip, that means that the foreseeable shape of politics is to take your loudest ideological champion, get the moderates to close ranks and just start saving the world from the other guy, right? No moderate meta seems like it's going to be a rough time in politics in the upcoming decades.

    10 votes
    1. skybrian
      Link Parent
      There is a bit more nuance than that. There are a lot of people who vote in every election and will vote for the Democrat regardless. But from a strategic perspective it makes sense to take their...

      There is a bit more nuance than that.

      There are a lot of people who vote in every election and will vote for the Democrat regardless. But from a strategic perspective it makes sense to take their (our) vote for granted.

      The question is where to find more votes. There are a lot people who don't reliably vote, so increasing turnout by getting them excited is likely to be helpful, if you can do it.

      (And the same considerations hold true for Republicans.)

      6 votes
    2. [3]
      Loire
      Link Parent
      In times of societal upheaval we move to the extremes. As a result politics will continue to reward extremists and populists on far reaches of the spectrum. Fascism and socialism/communism will...

      In times of societal upheaval we move to the extremes. As a result politics will continue to reward extremists and populists on far reaches of the spectrum. Fascism and socialism/communism will grow in popularity as people look for extreme solutions to the decline of society. The middle is going to continue to be cannibalized until this current period of angst settles out.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        NoblePath
        Link Parent
        What do you suppose drives the societal upheaval?

        What do you suppose drives the societal upheaval?

        1 vote
        1. Loire
          Link Parent
          I imagine it's different depending on the era and I am by no means an expert. The last two in 1930 and 2008- present have certainly been a combination of economics and environmental (Dust Bowl in...

          I imagine it's different depending on the era and I am by no means an expert. The last two in 1930 and 2008- present have certainly been a combination of economics and environmental (Dust Bowl in the '30's).

          2 votes
  3. [5]
    moonbathers
    Link
    This reminds me of all the articles following the 2016 election about people from the Midwest who voted for Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016, pretty much all of them white. I always thought...

    This reminds me of all the articles following the 2016 election about people from the Midwest who voted for Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016, pretty much all of them white. I always thought that demographic was given too much attention, especially as a white person from the Midwest who has shared a lot of their experiences but didn't get suckered by Republicans' empty promises.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      Micycle_the_Bichael
      Link Parent
      Yeah I'm the same. I am the same demographic and instead of becoming a republican I became a socialist so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Yeah I'm the same. I am the same demographic and instead of becoming a republican I became a socialist so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      8 votes
      1. moonbathers
        Link Parent
        Yeah, I don't know how you can live in a small town without a ton of resources and say "no, we don't want to get help funding our roads/schools/internet/etc". Every community for themself will...

        Yeah, I don't know how you can live in a small town without a ton of resources and say "no, we don't want to get help funding our roads/schools/internet/etc". Every community for themself will only result in most of them dying a slow death.

        8 votes
    2. [2]
      NoblePath
      Link Parent
      Is it Midwest vs coasts or rural vs. urban vs. suburban?

      Is it Midwest vs coasts or rural vs. urban vs. suburban?

      1 vote
      1. moonbathers
        Link Parent
        Both. I'm from Wisconsin and people from the northern part of the state hate Madison and Milwaukee just like they hate on the coasts.

        Both. I'm from Wisconsin and people from the northern part of the state hate Madison and Milwaukee just like they hate on the coasts.

        3 votes
  4. skybrian
    Link
    Conceptually I think the idea sounds rather plausible, but that's not the way to decide whether this approach works better. Predictions are evaluated using math. Has anyone seen a serious evaluation?

    Conceptually I think the idea sounds rather plausible, but that's not the way to decide whether this approach works better. Predictions are evaluated using math. Has anyone seen a serious evaluation?

    7 votes
  5. Loire
    Link
    I believe this is already happening. The number of disaffected Sanders "supporters" I've seen suggesting boycotting any Democratic candidate that isn't Sanders seems much to high this early in the...

    Bitecofer already sees the Trump playbook coming together for 2020: warning of a demographic takeover by nonwhites in order to boost turnout among noncollege white voters, and trying to sow chaos in the Democratic ranks so that supporters of a losing primary candidate either stay home or support a third-party candidate.

    I believe this is already happening. The number of disaffected Sanders "supporters" I've seen suggesting boycotting any Democratic candidate that isn't Sanders seems much to high this early in the game. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a concentrated effort by malicious actors to try and convince Sanders voters to abstain from voting should he not get the nomination.

    6 votes
  6. Kuromantis
    Link
    I agree, and this is the actually pretty common in US history. The most clear examples of this in history are in 1912 and 1980. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt split with the Republican party and ran for...

    And in a view that goes against years of accepted political wisdom that says the choice of a running mate doesn’t much matter, the key she says, to a 2020 Democratic victory will lie less in who is at the top of the ticket than in who gets chosen as veep. A good ticket-mate would be a person of color like Stacey Abrams or Julián Castro, she suggests, someone who can further ignite Democratic partisans who might otherwise stay home. The reason Trump won in 2016 was not, she says, because of a bunch of disaffected blue-collar former Democrats in the Midwest; it is because a combination of Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin pulled away more than 6 percent of voters in a state like Michigan. These were anti-Hillary voters, yes—but they were anti-Trump voters especially, and they are likely to come to the Democratic fold this time around if they’re given a reason.

    I agree, and this is the actually pretty common in US history. The most clear examples of this in history are in 1912 and 1980. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt split with the Republican party and ran for the Bull Moose party against the Republicans and Democrats, gained 27.4% of the vote and left the Republicans with only 23.4%. because of this teddy gave the majority to Woodrow Wilson in 40 states despite him winning 42% of the vote. In 1980, Reagan won 50.7% of the vote and Jimmy Carter only won 40.1% of the vote. The rest of the votes went to Anderson (6.7%) and others and because of this, despite only having a majority of .7 percent, he gained 91% of the seats.

    Trump appears to understand Bitecofer’s theories as well as anyone in politics. He leans into the divisions and negative partisanship. In 2018, Trump turned the midterms into a referendum on him, warning that Democrats would bring crime and chaos into their neighborhoods if they won. There was a turnout surge among Trump voters in some places, but it wasn’t enough to offset the Democratic gains.

    Bitecofer already sees the Trump playbook coming together for 2020: warning of a demographic takeover by nonwhites in order to boost turnout among noncollege white voters, and trying to sow chaos in the Democratic ranks so that supporters of a losing primary candidate either stay home or support a third-party candidate.

    Unlike forecasters like FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who believe that candidates seen as too ideologically extreme pay a political cost, Bitecofer doesn’t see much of a downside to a candidate like Bernie Sanders. But she doesn’t see much of an upside either, since ideology isn’t as big a motivator as identity, and since Sanders did not in fact bring hordes of new voters to the polls in 2016. (Overall turnout in the 2016 primaries was down compared with 2008, when Barack Obama led a surge in the youth vote. In 2016, Sanders just did remarkably well among the young as Clinton tanked.) There is some risk to nominating Joe Biden, who could be seen as a candidate of the status quo against a disrupter like Trump, but either way, the key will be to do their version of what Trump does to them every day: make the prospect of four more years of Republican rule seem like a threat to the Republic, one that could risk everything Democratic-leaning voters hold dear.

    I personally think the logic behinf this line of thinking is because they would usually be derided by mainstream media like CNN or MSNBC but since trust in said media is going increasingly down, I think it will become increasingly less accurate.

    “If you want to win the election, you have to be able to frame your candidacy in a way that reminds voters that Trump is an abnormality that must be excised,” she said. “People always say in campaigns, ‘America’s future is on the ballot.’ Well this time you will have to convince them that it really is.”

    I agree. And Trump's acquittal recently means no acrobatics is needed to convey that message.

    2 votes
  7. [3]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    I like this woman.

    Bitecofer [talked to Iowan voters] and rejects the criticism that somehow getting out in the world would improve her modeling. If she allowed personal conversations to influence her work, she said, then “I would be a god-fucking awful quantitative scientist.”

    I like this woman.

    20 votes
    1. [2]
      smoontjes
      Link Parent
      I don't have the knowledge to comment on her theories, I just know that this was a great read, helped along by her amazing articulations:

      I don't have the knowledge to comment on her theories, I just know that this was a great read, helped along by her amazing articulations:

      well that is a different fucking banana

      I am arguing radical shit, OK?

      4 votes
      1. nothis
        Link Parent
        She's like a character from Veep!

        She's like a character from Veep!

        4 votes