Preferred approach: Fire up the base or reach out to centrist swing vote?

There is generally two competing schools of thought on elections: One says you rally your base (usually by nominating a hard-left or hard-right candidate) and energize your faithful to turn out to the polls. The other says you moderate and try to win as much of the centrist swing vote as you can, because the center is decisive.

Which do you prefer? (There is an “other” option for those who don’t go for either tactic)

There are magnitudes more people who don’t bother to vote than there are true swing voters. A tiny increase in participation beats a huge centrist swing.

In the past three elections, which strategy has worked best?

I don’t know if I’d say either. I feel like more you have to nominate someone that seems to really stand for something strongly (or does a damn good job pretending). This usually means ideologically more left or right compared to the Overton Window. I think wishy washy or overly poll/popularity-focused candidates get caught in the trap that their arguments are too polished and white bread to convince any remotely skeptical swing voters, while simultaneously lacking the conviction or ideology to fire up the base.

Both. No party is monolithic, no matter how much Republicans would like them to be. So speak to everyone. Do what you need to rally the base and do what you need to reach out to the centrists.

For what kind of election?

For presidential elections - reach out to swing voters

For all other elections (midterms, primaries, off year elections, local elections) - fire up the base

For most groups, their share of the adult population and their share of the politically engaged is the same, or the % of politically engaged is lower than the share of the population. Except for the base of the 2 parties.

For core conservatives, they are 13% of adults. But 15% of registered voters and 20% of the politically engaged.

For solid liberals, they are 16% of adults. But 19% of registered voters and 25% of the politically engaged.

So for elections where turnout will be low, you want the base fired up because they are the ones that actually bother to vote. The other groups have lower turnout and are more likely to stay home in non-presidential year elections.

As a general rule of thumb, about 60-70 million people vote for each side of the isle in a presidential year national election, but only about 40 million for each side in a midterm.

Primaries and local elections are even worse. Only 30 million people voted in the democratic primary, despite Hillary winning 66 million votes in the general election. So about 36 million people who voted for her in the general stayed home and didn’t bother to vote in the democratic primary.

So basically, in a presidential year election focus on turnout which means appealing to centrists. For everything else, just fire up the base.

But again, centrists are followers. Not leaders. They aren’t thoughtful people. They are basically people who barely pay attention, they aren’t people who are highly politically engaged and are biding their time to figure out which politician reflects their core values. Just make sure they show up to vote in big elections because they barely bother to turn up unless it is a big election.

I voted for Hilary in the General but I voted for Kasich in the primary. It’s not that I “didn’t bother”, but that I had more of an interest of voting against a particular person on the Republican ballot than I had on which of the two Democratic candidates would win the primary.

Or, you know, people who aren’t partisan blowhards that can recognize that each side has some good arguments. Well, used to. The current Republicans seemed to have decided to abandon my point of view on almost every issue, but I still feel that conservatism in general has its merits in certain situations and that every single idea a liberal thinks up is not automatically right.

In the GOP primary, all GOP candidates also got about 30 million votes total. And Trump got 63 million votes in the general in 2016.

So 33 million people who voted for Trump in the general didn’t bother to vote in the primary. Now maybe not all of them voted in the GOP primary, but of the 2 major parties, about 130 million voted in the general but only about 60 million voted in the primary.

I’d be open to a conservative party that believed in democracy and wasn’t run on white resentment and plutocracy. But republicans like that are a dying breed.

Either way, I believe what I said that the base turn up to vote in all elections, while most everyone else only votes in presidential elections. However if liberals are 25% of voters, that is about 30-35 million voters. But Sanders only got 13 million votes in the primary in 2016.

Turnout in the 2016 presidential primary was less than half of the turnout in the general election.

I don’t see how trying to win elections by appealing to people who barely bother to vote is a winning strategy. That strategy will work in the election those people vote in (the presidential general election). But by and large I assume the base of the 2 parties make up the majority of voters in all other elections.

Assuming we are talking about the presidential general election:

Who is the base?

Okay on the GOP side hit single button issues, whether the button is gun rights, or imposing Christian values, or favorable tax treatment, or anti-immigrant, or whatever, and you will get a cohort of voters per button pushed, but on the D side? Fewer single button issues.

Part of “the base” is a varied collection of those who care about certain “rights” issues and redressing various wrongs. The bits that often get labelled as “identity politics” - from “women’s issues” to “Gay Rights” to various issues of racial and ethnic justice.

Part of “the base” is the economic populism that is the centerpiece of the progressive wing, which can appeal to white who feel left behind in the changing economy.

Do you mean one? The other? Which issues should be “hard” to rev up the D base? Which should be “moderate” to appeal to the so-called center?

If “the base” means those who identify with the party then party IDs are smaller than those who consider themselves independent. (It’s most recently I>D>R - 37, 33, 26) By “lean” it’s D to R of 50 to 42. Really a small number who do not at least lean.

Swing voters though definitely exist. Think just about those who voted for Obama and then Trump.

Of course there were also the Black voters who came out for Obama and not for HRC.

I answered “moderate to centrist” but really it’s a simplistic model. And to me the impact of the “hard” candidate on motivating turnout of the D base than assuring the other side’s base is fully revved.

A progressive can appeal to white working class voters who might swing as well as a centrist can. Depends on who it is and how they sell it. Neither is going to throw the “rights” issues Dems under the bus. Hard left on all issues though loses the leaners and rev up the other side’s turnout even if they dislike their own candidate.

For presidential elections, but yeah you have covered all the bases here.

Another take at the question, again looking at the D side.

In the presidential election it does not help to win New York or California by bigger margins. There are really only a few states that actually are in question. It seems to me that the Democratic base is more than anything else urban and the GOP base rural with the “centrist” voters mostly being the mix of suburban regions.

So maybe we can ask if the tactic should be driving more votes out of cities (with the possible impact of also driving more votes out of rural areas) or fighting for the suburban vote?

And which is more likely specifically to win PA, WI, MI, FL, AZ, NV, and the other swingable potential “tipping point” states?
Local races and midterms? No one size fits all. The answer will depend on the district and the state.
And btw, that “centrists are followers not leaders” … what a load of crap.

I stand by it. Undecideds are people who barely pay attention and don’t understand their own opinions, or the opinions of the two parties.

I don’t buy the myth that they are these wise, aloof voters who need tons of time to make up their minds. They are barely engaged voters who barely understand what is happening.

I think you’ve got this completely backwards.

I know people who describe themselves as conservatives. They may agree sincerely with some core conservative stances (e.g., guns) but less so about others (e.g., abortion). I find this out when I talk with them about the issues - they can’t say why they feel like they do, other than, “because I’m a conservative”.

If such people were more willing to speak for themselves, and forgo the security of having a group to join, they’d likely be swing voters. But they apparently value belonging to a group more than sticking to their opinions.

OTOH, I consider myself an independent precisely because my views don’t fit in with either side. E.g., I’m pro-abortion rights, but also pro-guns. My beliefs on both issues are rooted in aversion to too much government. But the Republican party doesn’t see it that way. So I’m not a Republican. I also have similar conflicts that prevent me from considering myself a Democrat.

My lack of party allegiance is *not *due to a lack of conviction or thought.

“Centrist”, the word you used in your previous post, is not the same thing as “undecided”.

The problem is that it’s like Newtonian politics; for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Any candidate who fires up the conservative/liberal base in order to get them to vote for him also fires up the liberal/conservative base into voting against him.

I meant to say undecided in my original post.

There are centrists who believe in tenets of both parties. I have no issue with them. But undecided voters are mostly people who barely pay attention. calling them leaders is a mistake. They are barely attached to politics and will end up deciding their vote based on superficial traits that occur within the last month of the political campaign.

If only it was predictably equal and opposite. Thing is that it is instead a very nonlinear function and one that varies by cycle and particular issue context. That’s what makes this question so hard: there is no single right answer. well maybe: “Yes.” :slight_smile:

Big difference.

Personally I am not at all understanding how a centrist could at this point vote GOP. The most progressive Democrat, the most “rights” focused/“identity issues” blinkered Democrat, seems to me less extreme than is the current mainstream of the GOP.

I think the answer is more of a continuum and so is the behavior. Like even a “progressive candidate who is going to fire up the base”, like a Bernie Sanders, should also try to entice centrist swing voters as well. He may not do as well as a Bill Clinton at that, but there’s one lesson I’ve found in the last twenty years or so of politics and that is when you choose not to campaign towards certain sub-electorates at all, it will always cost you votes.

So it’s really always going to be an “all of the above” approach, but with one getting maybe more emphasis than the other.

I agree with what one poster said that there are far more people who don’t vote than there are centrist swing voters, but I’m not sure we know with 100% certainty the political motivations of those non-voters. When I look over Pennsylvania and Michigan, I see a lot of rural precincts that had significantly higher vote totals than they did in 2012, and those precincts went for Trump. They also went from Romney in 2012. In Trump’s case in those two states I’d argue he brought some people to the polls in those precincts who aren’t regular voters (they’re probably occasional/irregular voters and some may have been right-leaning non-voters.) I’d argue Hillary did not bring many voters of that type to the polls. I’d also argue that due to high loyalty to party, the centrist Republicans and the independents who vote Republican (in a sense those are really Republicans too), appeared to not be so disgusted with Trump they were unwilling to vote for him. If you take a look at those rural precincts and counties, the raw number of new votes per county isn’t huge, but it’s upward of a couple thousand per county, and when you look at the narrow margins with which Trump won in Michigan and Pennsylvania, it eventually quite well explains his victories there.
The simple answer might then be that firing up the base is better, but it’s really more complex than that. I think Hillary was trying to fire up the base as well, with significant advertising and focus spent on highlighting Trump’s bigotry. In fact many of her most prominent ads were to that effect. What I think was happening there was an appeal to the base–just not the Bernie Sanders progressive base, instead she was appealing to the minority base. I think she was hoping this would swing Florida to her column, and she concluded that Trump couldn’t win without Florida (this calculus has been true for every Republican candidate since W. Bush)–but she incorrectly assessed her chances of losing Pennsylvania/Wisconsin/Michigan, so even if her strategy had energized minority voters in Florida and won her the Sunshine state, she would’ve still lost the Presidency. If we look at some states where Hillary did very well, there’s evidence her strategy did work in some states–but states that didn’t end up mattering. For example she won huge margins in California (she won 1m more votes in California than Obama did) and out-performed Democrats historically in Texas, Arizona, . The issue is California was already a guaranteed win, and the Republican numerical advantage in the other states was so big she still didn’t win the states themselves. I think there’s also some evidence her campaign did turn off some regular Republican voters from voting for Trump. For example Trump actually won Florida with only 49% of the vote, he only won 51% of the vote in Georgia where Romney won 53% of the vote. I think Hillary’s strategy worked but it didn’t flip states for her, it appears Gary Johnson for example did really well in those two red states (he won over 2% in both), so while I think Hillary did help drive some Republicans away from Trump, too many of them either responded by staying home or voting for Johnson than by going and voting for her.

So essentially, and I think it’s largely due to Republicans being “lucky” in how their voters are geographically sorted, both candidate used similar strategies. Hillary’s resulted in far more Americans voting for her. Trump’s resulted in more states voting for him–one of those matters in our electoral college.

This, big time. Politics is supposed to be about addition, not subtraction. Republicans castigate as RINOs anyone showing the slightest bit of deviation from their orthodoxy de jour. So how come they keep winning elections? The Electoral College explains 66% of their last three Presidential wins, voter distribution their control of the Senate, gerrymandering their grasp on the House. And because even those folks that they secretly regard as bottom-feeding lamebrains keep voting for them.

I also don’t get this. The gop keeps getting more and more ideologically extreme and it hasn’t hurt them in the polls. They may have lost a few senate races because of it though (Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, Delaware).

I don’t know what voters respond to, but I doubt it’s a nuanced understanding of the issues. Even the base of each party votes on emotions. The right base votes to defend white privilege and the left base votes to defend egalitarianism.

Are there centrists who have a valid understanding of their own views, the agenda of the two parties but feel like both offer good things? If so, how many are there and what are their normal turnout rates? Maybe some highly educated, financially successful white people would fit that bill. I don’t know.