James Joyner seems to think that it is only a matter of time before the Democrats start copying the GOP turnout operation. Betsy disagrees and so do I. Betsy notes:
the Republicans have been bragging about their GOTV efforts since the 2002 elections and I have expected since then that the Democrats would copy it, but they haven't seemed to do so. In 2004 they outsourced a lot of their GOTV work to independent groups and they found out that it just doesn't work as well to have some independent effort that isn't run out of the Committee office. You'd think that the Democrats could imitate the massive computer effort that the GOP utilize.The secret GOP weapon--nothing but a good database and sweat equity. As described in the Post:
About six months ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sat down with the Chafee campaign to construct a voter-turnout program. Weekly phone calls followed and a number of NRSC senior staffers -- including political director Blaise Hazelwood -- made regular trips to the state to ensure the structure was being built. They identified potential Chafee voters and pressed Democrats to change their party identification to "unaffiliated," a move that would allow them to vote in the Republican primary.So the GOP just works hard and uses some smart technology--but not technology that is so new as to be unproven.
As the campaign wore on, Republicans began another slew of phone calls to unaffiliated voters to tell them that they could vote for Chafee and then immediately change their registration back to unaffiliated or Democrat. The RNC road-tested a new technology in the race that officials said is making their targeting program faster and more precise. It is based on a program that allows volunteers to call potential voters, note their political views and preferences on sheet of paper and immediately scan the results into a huge database known as the Voter Vault. Experts in the political practice known as microtargeting can then instantly analyze the results to determine which issues are moving voters and adjust their pitch.
All told, the Chafee campaign spent $500,000 on the effort, while the Republican National Committee chipped in an additional $400,000. The NRSC spent $1.2 million on the race -- primarily on an extended television campaign that attacked Laffey. Heading into the final day, Chafee said he had "deep apprehensions" about his ability to win.
But in a conversation last week with a client (the lovely and talented Cynthia) we discussed how the Democrats have invented many of the tools of modern campaigning, but the GOP has perfected it in the past forty years since Barry Goldwater. First the Democrats created a climate of ideas, starting with the New Deal. There were foundational prinicples upon which the party stood for. But by the 1960's and 70's a number of those ideas had been implemented and other discarded. But after the drubbing of Goldwater in 1964, the GOP sat back, took stock and started building a principaled platform that has resulted in a solid GOP core, culminating in our current posture, with the GOP in control of much of the governmental machinery. Even now, in the time when Democrats are chastising the GOP for its policies, there is a GOP machine behind the scenes that continues to churn out ideas. Democrats have made a practice of criticizing GOP policies without offering any of their own proposals.
Now, as a minority party, it is common to take the path of criticism, but if the Democrats want to be a party in control, they need convince the voting public that they have better policy proposals to offer. The danger in being contrary is that no one will believe you can do anything else. But the danger is not just for Republicans, but rather it is also for the nation as a whole. Multiple policy proposals, from multiple points of view generates compromises and often leads to better policy than one party rule. Ideas get tested, adjusted and tested again. Mere criticism comprising "that's bad policy" helps no one.
But ideas alone will not win elections. If the GOP had great ideas, but lacked the ability to move voters, they would not have won in 1980 with Reagan or in 1994 with the GOP ascension to power in Congress. In teh 1930's and 40's the Democrats built a solid, low tech method of winning elections--voter turnout--primarily with the aid of unions, but also within their own machinery. Democrat registration and voter turnout was king in the 60's, 70's and into the 80's, Ronald Reagan nontwithstanding. Even after Reagan's victory in 1980 and his landslide in 1984, the GOP continued serious efforts at maximizing their turnout machinery. Arguably, even the 1992 and 1996 elections could have been won by the GOP had it not been for the right sided challenge of Ross Perot. The GOTV efforts became, if not microtargeted in modern parlance, at least 50% more efficient through a solid ground organziation. The GOP learned that they can spend a lot of money on the air war, but if you don't have a ground orgnaization designed to get your voters to the polls, all the advertisements in the world are not going to win a campaign.
More in another post on GOP election operations.