Submitted by Liberally Conse... on Mon, 04/27/2009 - 22:26
The political discourse in this country is dominated by two contrasting groups; we have the Democrats, represented by Obama, Clinton, Pelosi, and Reid, and the Republicans, represented by Bush, Palin, Huckabee, and Jindal. The reason I picked these individuals is because they, for the most part, agree with all the planks of their parties.
Another trait that they have in common is that most of these political figures, with the exceptions of Obama and Huckabee, are generally disliked. Not hated, not despised, disliked. Few of them have positive approval ratings, even though virtually every person polled had never met these people. While professions can be disliked, asking people what they thought of Bob, a used car salesman, would give you wildly different results than asking people what they thought of Bob, their local car salesman who goes to church with them and has a son who is on the school football team. The reason that these answers are different is that one is asking people what they think of a idea and the other is asking people what they think of a person. One of the main reasons that I believe that the politicians in the first paragraph are so disliked is that people know them as ideas and concepts, not as people. Nancy Pelosi may be a great person to talk to, but I know her as the representative of San Francisco liberalism in the same sense that I know Sarah Palin as the representative of uneducated social conservatism.
The second part of my point is that a district or state will generally elect people closer to the middle of their political balance. In other words, Vermont will elect a flaming liberal, while Mississippi will elect a rabid conservative, because they are near the middle of that state's political balance. Personality plays a big part as well, and many politicians get elected while being much more liberal or conservative than their average constituent, based on their charisma. Examples of this are Sebelius in Kansas or (I hate to use this ubiquitous example) Reagan in California. However, generally speaking, a right-of-center district will elect a right-of-center candidate, and vice-versa. Nate Silver shows a typical way that a region votes, based on how primaries end up, and how liberal/conservative the region is, here
What this article says, for those who are loath of reading, is that each person is a number on the liberal-conservative scale, and they vote for the candidate that is closest to them; "If there's a liberal Democrat at space 10 and a conservative one at space 50, we assume that the voter at space 20 will pick the candidate at 10, who is slightly closer to her ideological preferences". This happens once in the primaries, and once in the general election, and in a 60-40 district, the dominant party wins 75% of the time, which seems logical.
The main development of the past 3 years, as my title implies, is that Democrats have been playing this system more deliberately. Ideally, according to the model, a district that is evenly divided should elect a Democrat at 25 on the scale, and a Republican at 75, and the two would split the vote evenly. However, if the Democrats push to nominate a more conservative member, say at 40 on the scale, that Democrat would win 55-45. I know that there are dozens of intangibles in this situation, such as liberal Democrats staying home or voting Green. However, I think that a lot of progress that the Democrats have made electorally is because they are biting the bullet and choosing more conservative Democrats, while Republicans are talking about doing the opposite.
The other major development, besides picking "conservadems", is the Democrats' adoption of, for lack of a better word, Rovian tactics in terms of branding. Our guy is your neighbor, the guy you buy nails and lumber from (is a small business owner), the guy who keeps you safe at night (is an attorney general), or the guy who is an elder at your church (loves family values). Their guy is the idea, the concept. Kerry is the concept of Vietnam protests and Massachusetts liberalism, while Bush is the local police chief who has had to make the tough decisions necessary to keep your family safe.
To see how both these trends played out today, one needs to look no further than the NY-20 special election. Despite being the worse candidate and starting at a large disadvantage, Murphy won because he was a conservative democrat (as opposed to a typical republican), and because he was successful in branding himself as a small-business entrepreneur, as opposed to Tedisco, who he tied with the Republican establishment.
The applications of this are twofold. One is to ease the pressure on Republicans in liberal and moderate states. The Democrats have let their Blue Dogs vote against the party on some important proposals, and that is a key reason why many of them are still in office. Secondly, allow Republican candidates to distance themselves from prominent members of their party.
Personal disclaimer: I am a moderate conservative who voted for both Bush and Obama, obviously for different reasons. I know the latter would get me banned from other sites (*cough* RedState *cough*), but I appreciate reading debate from liberals and conservatives...as long as it's good ^_^.