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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Turnout Strategy Choice: New Voters vs. Older Reliables

This TDS Staff post was originally published on October 14, 2010.
Reid Wilson’s post, “The DNC’s Risky Surge Strategy” at Hotline On Call features an interesting discussion of GOTV strategy differences within the Democratic Party. According to Wilson, the DNC is pushing an emphasis on mobilizing the 15 million new voters who cast their first ballots in the 2008 election (72 percent for Obama), while some Democratic veterans believe, as one senior House leadership aide put it, “I think it’s a better use of resources to go after more reliable voters. They have a 2012 strategy.”
While common sense would urge working the hell out of both constituencies, hard choices have to be made about allocating resources. As Wilson explains the DNC strategy:

Both sides of the family feud are focusing on ground game and voter turnout. The disagreement is over which voters the party should be expending precious dollars trying to turn out.
The White House strategy is focused on an unprecedented effort to turn out the voters who cast their first ballots for Obama in 2008. The Democratic National Committee has pledged $30 million in voter turnout efforts this year, largely geared toward those first-time voters through Organizing for America, the outgrowth of Obama’s political operation.
The DNC estimates that 15 million voters cast their first ballot in 2008. Fully 72 percent of those voters backed Democrats. They are predominantly younger and more ethnically diverse — in other words, the next generation of the Democratic base. Those voters could be key to a number of races in which Democrats and Republicans are running dead even.

Older line Dems take a different view, according to Wilson:

But this strategy relies on the assumption that Obama’s 2008 campaign transformed the electorate that will decide the 2010 midterms…Old school Democrats, mostly affiliated with the labor movement and congressional campaigns, aren’t buying it. They don’t believe the DNC understands what the midterm electorate will really look like.
“The notion that first-time presidential voters will come out in an off year is limited,” said one veteran Democratic strategist closely aligned with labor unions. In 2006, massive efforts to turn out the Democratic base, coupled with a political wave, swept Democrats into power. “If only the party and operatives were focused on getting that turnout in hand before going for extra icing,” this strategist said, “they’d have a far tastier cake.”
Other Democratic groups have taken the more traditional route. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has invested millions in robust field programs in virtually every competitive race in the country, a move that looks likely to pay off in at least a handful of contests. Unions have spent most of their money on turnout as well, forgoing the massive advertising that has become a hallmark of every election season.

Differ as they do, the Democratic factions are working well together, as Wilson notes:

“We’ve been very pleased with the activity, and we’ve been working in full coordination,” said Jon Vogel, the DCCC’s executive director. The DNC is “in the majority of our targeted races. They’re organizing volunteers; they’re organizing get-out-the-vote efforts. And I think that will show through in Election Day results.” J.B. Poersch, Vogel’s counterpart at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, echoed the happy talk. “The DNC’s put a lot of energy in full-time organizers,” he said.

Better-than-expected Democratic turnout of both groups is certainly not out of the question. Exit polls on November 2nd should shed fresh light on the kind of ground game choices which make sense for 2012 — and beyond.

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