Friday, March 9, 2012

What goes around comes home to roost, or something

Turnout in the Republican primaries is seriously low, Kos in person reports, and Dr. Newt Gingrich, million-dollar historian and famed verbal terrorist with the international Belgian colonialist conspiracy, thinks he knows why: it's that rotter Romney, or rather the SuperPac that isn't coordinated with him, I mean of course it isn't coordinated with any candidate—that would be against the law!—but it's more specially not coordinated with Romney than anybody else, Restore our Future (a terrific retroactionary name, by the way, with its evocation of a future that has become a little shabby and shopworn, so that we need to spiff it up somewhat before we carry it with us on our long march into the long ago).
Fire belly Newt. From IMproPRieTies.
Anyway, Gingrich says it is all the negative advertising that is driving the voters into staying home, and he may well be right (even a stopped clock etc.).  According to Wikipedia [jump]
in any case, the best research out there (Ansolabehere, S. & Iyengar, S. (1995). Going negative: How campaign advertising shrinks and polarizes the electorate. New York: The Free Press) shows that negative advertising does indeed diminish turnout, tending to work more to the advantage of Republicans than Democrats, but it doesn't say anything about primary campaigns.

Republicans are famous for their efforts to decrease turnout in general elections, but something tells me they don't actually know how it works, or understand how negative advertising is a part of the same process; for instance, when they're specifically aiming at lowering turnout—through things like voter ID laws, advertising false venues and dates in targeted communities, bribing ministers to advise congregations not to vote, etc.—they focus only on minorities, specifically black people, without thinking of the advantages that would accrue to them from getting a wider population to stay home. And then negative advertising lowers turnout in the way it is happening in this primary season, they think it's a bug rather than a feature, as the Newtster is complaining.

In fact the reason low turnout favors Republicans isn't well known at all, I believe, and so I'm going to spell it out for you: it's very simply that most voters don't like Republicans and would prefer not to vote for them, so that the less of a majority there is voting at all, the better their chances of winning, or rather not losing, of being the last man left, like the Little One in "Ten in the Bed" ("There were ten in the bed/And the Little One said,/'Roll over! Roll over!'/ So they all rolled over and one fell out...").

Thus, in the 2008 elections a majority of the voting-age population came out and voted for Barack Obama, and Democrats won. In the 2010 elections a majority stayed home and the Democrats lost; it's going too far to say Republicans won, but they didn't lose, and that got them the House of Representatives and the ability to stop the Senate from doing anything. The actual winner of the election was "Don't vote, they're all the same," or more succinctly "Fuck 'em all," but that candidate couldn't actually take an oath or a seat, so the second-place Republicans stepped in. (In my approach, "Don't vote" wins when it gets an absolute majority; when it only has a plurality, the human winner is actually a winner.)

And because the Republicans don't realize that they are losers even when they technically win, Willard Mitt Romney, or rather the SuperPac not coordinated with him, didn't realize that the strategy of negative advertising Blitzkrieg in the primary was only going to widen people's natural dislike—that while it would no doubt help him not lose in the primaries it would blow back on the party as a whole, including himself. (I mean, in the November Blitzkrieg...)

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