It’s The Base, Stupid
Mark Kleiman thinks the recently announced decision by Gov. Romney to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University is a mistake:
[Romney] needs to convince moderate swing voters that he’s not in fact a wingnut but has merely been playing one on TV
The post is sarcastically titled, “Moving to the center.”
As far as moving leftward goes, this would indeed represent a bizarre and conspicuous blunder by Team Romney. But, again, I must repeat: the election of 2012 will be decided by base turnout, not middle-of-the-road undecided voters. The country is so politically divided and ideologically polarized, few people truly live their political lives in that nebulous middle. What’s more, although there are more registered independents now than ever, data and anecdote suggest that few of these voters are actually independent. (For example: me! I’m a registered independent, and there’s as much chance I vote GOP as Ted Nugent delivering Obama’s second inaugural address.)
More often, independents are quite firmly on one side or the other:
But exactly how independent are the self-styled independents?…Research over the years suggests that most independents are what John Petrocik, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, calls “closet partisans.”
“We talk as though these people are strongly susceptible to the short-term influences of campaigning and the economy, and that they are a massive swing bloc in the electorate,” says Petrocik, whose research helped lay the groundwork for the influential 1992 book The Myth of the Independent Voter.
“For the most part, none of those things are true,” he says.
What’s really important in a close election, then, is making sure your partisans take the time to vote (and, ideally, are engaged and excited enough to do some campaigning on your behalf of their own). Independents aren’t entirely nonexistent, of course, and you will need to be at least palatable to a low-information and non-ideological voter. But that’s icing; if your base isn’t excited, you’ve got no cake.
Considering the profound ambivalence most Republican die-hards feel about Romney, speaking at Liberty U — and his recent, comically paranoid pandering before the NRA — makes more sense. Although anti-Obama animus will be Romney’s best friend in this regard, he still needs to make the right gestures and kiss the right rings. Most undecided voters won’t be paying politics no mind at this point, anyway.
(P.S. I don’t think Kleiman is stupid.)