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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Demography +Events +Candidate quality +$ = Victory

Just to add a couple thoughts to Ed’s interesting post yesterday on “The Limits of Demographic Determinism:”
You take away the economic meltdown and Sarah Palin, and it’s not entirely implausible that we lose a few percentage points in key states and get President-Elect McCain. In other words, two anomalous events may have clinched Obama’s win.
Chris Bowers makes a pretty good case for demographic determinism. In my view, however, a demographic and/or an event-driven outcome get a little wobbly when you imagine a less impressive Democratic nominee than Obama. Let’s not pick on Dukakis. Substitute any of the poorly-performing Democratic presidential nominees of the post-war period for Obama, and the victory scenario turns to jello. High or low candidate quality has to be worth at least a few points, which can swing a close election.
On the other hand, a data-driven study of all 36 presidential elections (8 presidents died in office and were replaced by their veeps) might conclude that demography is indeed destiny — in a plurality/majority of the cases. As with polls, it’s hard to look at any single election and make an informed call that applies broadly. The electoral college makes an educated guess even harder, with 50 mini-elections, each with its own demographic mix. To evaluate the role of demographics as the dominant factor, you almost need direct popular election which, by the way, is something Dems should get serious about in the upcoming cycle.
I think Bowers is quite right, however, that certain reforms can help maximize untapped demographic advantages, including universal same day voter registration. felon enfranchisement and weekend voting to name just a few. More Black, Hispanic and women candidates would also help Dems leverage their demographic potential.
Instead of just one pivotal factor, it may be possible to devise and test a formula (more complex than the title of this post) weighing the major factors that determine election victories and assigning them numerical values. Bowers’ ‘internet rising’ factor might even be quantifiable in the percentage of voters who get most of their information from the net or the number of “high information voters.” And things went so amazingly well this cycle — consider the odds against getting all the breaks — you could make a case for divine intervention, although it might be a little hard to quantify. Hey, where’s Nate Silver?

One comment on “Demography +Events +Candidate quality +$ = Victory

  1. Keith Roberts on

    Obama’s victory came as the result of a “perfect storm”: a wonderful candidate; a brilliant campaign; few significant errors or mishaps; no October terrorist surprise; Palin; the economic trainwreck; McCain’s poor campaigning; demographic shifts; Howard Dean’s 50 state approach; the Democratic groundgame; a press finally willing to call candidates on their lies; and a wonderful candidate.


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