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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

MacGillis: Dems Should Ditch ‘Midterm Fatalism’

Alec MacGillis’s “Democrats Can Overcome Their Midterm Fatalism–If They Get Over Themselves” at The New Republic restates a key message point of Sasha Issenberg’s recent article in the same magazine. MacGillis says it a little differently, but his emphasis should help bring the midterm challenge into focus:

…Before Democrats swoon into another round of pearl-clutching, they would be well-advised to absorb the message in Sasha Issenberg’s striking cover story in the new issue of this magazine. The piece is, on the surface, a helpful explainer of the new political science findings on how midterm elections work, and in particular why Republicans have come to have such a built-in advantage in them.
Embedded in the piece, though, is a powerful exhortation for Democrats to overcome their natural tendency toward midterm fatalism. Put simply, even when things aren’t looking so great for the party, the mundane work of fundraising and campaign volunteering can still make a real difference in winning key races. But if Democrats allow their fatalism to keep their butts on the couch and checkbooks in the drawer, forget about it.

Dems shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about changing minds at this stage. Showing up is actually a good bit more than half the battle, or rather, getting the so-called “unreliables” to show up:

…The irregular voters–“unreliables,” in Issenberg’s lingo–do not need to be won over to the Democrats with some magically persuasive message. They are, for the most part, already inclined to support the party. They just need to be gotten to the polls in midterm years. And there is an increasingly strong grasp of how this can be done: not through brilliant ads seeking to fire up base voters, but through the more targeted and unflashy outreach of shrewdly-phrased direct mail and, best of all, door-to-door contact by campaign canvassers.

In a way, voter apathy is less of a solvable problem than donor/volunteer motivation, echoes MacGillis:

The real challenge is that the efforts that have been proven to get Democratic voters to the polls even when the climate seems against the party–as in Colorado Senator Michael Bennet’s 2010 reelection and Terry McAuliffe’s election as Virginia governor last fall–is that they take manpower and cost money, and that the people who supply both of those in presidential years need to get over their fatalism and do the same in midterm years. That is, the fatalism that is so damaging to Democrats resides less in the disillusioned voter who stays home on election day than it does in the donor or volunteer whose support could have gotten 10 or 100 or 1000 unreliable voters to the polls.

Energizing volunteers and donors, then offers Dems their best chance to bust the midterm doldrums, argues MacGillis, agreeing with Issenberg. “Whether or not Democrats hold the Senate this year and win back some of the ground they lost in state capitals like Columbus will depend, in great part, on whether the party’s volunteers and donors can rouse themselves to get people back on those sidewalks–to get past their mood of the moment and the drumbeat of pessimism from the pundits to do the necessary work. It really is as simple as that.”
Simple or not, it’s hard to see how Democrats can go wrong energizing these two relatively small, but hugely influential pro-Democratic constituencies.

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