Published on TheHill.com on November 11, 2006
As Richard Nixon wrote, “history is written by liberals,” but the story of the 2008 campaign is too important to cede to them the analysis of what happened. A close analysis of the returns indicates several key realities:
a) Sarah Palin made a vast difference in McCain’s favor. Compared to 2004, McCain lost 11 points among white men, according to the Fox News exit poll, but only four points among white women. Obama’s underperformance among white women, evident throughout the fall, may be chalked up, in large part, to the influence of Sarah Palin. She provided a rallying point for women who saw their political agenda in terms larger than abortion. She addressed the question of what it is like to be a working mother in today’s economy and society and resonated with tens of millions of white women who have not responded to the more traditional, and liberal, advocates for their gender.
b) Turnout did not increase substantially. Despite predictions (by me and others) of a vastly greater voter turnout, it didn’t happen. About 127 million people voted in 2008, compared to 122 million in 2004. By contrast, turnout rose by almost 20 million between 2000 and 2004. The emphasis on early voting and the heavy participation in primaries indicated the likelihood of a huge increase in turnout, but, on Election Day, the turnout was modest.
c) The black vote made a huge difference; but young people did not. Obama, as expected, generated a big increase in African-American voter turnout. Fox News’s exit polls estimate that blacks constituted 13 percent of the turnout in 2008, compared with 11 percent in 2004 and 10 percent in 2000. But voters under 30 years of age were still the same 11 percent of the vote that they were in 2004. The surge of young voters, which was supposed to animate Obama’s rise, failed to happen.
d) The turnout efforts of groups like ACORN made a huge difference. Ultimately, it was the difference in voter turnout among Republicans and Democrats that, in addition to the higher black vote, elected Obama. According to Curtis Gans of American University, Republican turnout dropped from 30 percent in 2004 to 28.7 percent of the electorate in 2008, while the Democratic proportion of voters rose from 28.7 percent to 31.3 percent. Much of this increase came from newly registered voters, many as a result of ACORN’s efforts. Voter registration rose by 6 million in 2008, which may have accounted for virtually all the increase in turnout.
The message for conservatives is clear: The focus of Democrats on grassroots activism, begun in 1998 by MoveOn.org, was crucial to the Obama election. Instead of relying on the Republican Party to carry the message to the electorate, conservatives must organize their own grassroots movements – like GOPTrust.com – and boost turnout and enthusiasm among those who share their worldview. The backbreaking tasks of registering voters and getting out the vote are key to winning elections in the post-media era. Online networking and building of cyber-roots organizations is the way to go in competing in the new politics we face today.
Will the Republican Party get its act together to compete? Who knows. Will conservatives take matters into their own hands and build the kind of organization and Internet base that the liberals have over the past 15 years? They better. Unless we want to witness a fundamental change in our laws, society and culture, conservatives had better get busy and emulate their leftist brethren in building organizations to tap into their base. In the ’80s, groups like the National Rifle Association and the Moral Majority filled this need. Today, new groups must move to the fore to fill the void. And they better do it fast!