With all of the ‘Get Out the Vote’ campaigns flourishing in the months preceding the election, Republicans were up in arms. Under a flimsy non-partisan guise, liberal entertainers such as Oprah Winfrey, Jake Gyllenhall and Drew Barrymore were trying to encourage people who did not ordinarily vote to go to the polls. We experienced the hype here at Temple when Sean “P. Diddy” Combs visited for his Vote or Die campaign. Republicans saw these initiatives as a possible disaster-in-the-making because they believed such campaigns to increase voter turnout would only benefit the Democratic ticket. This was not the case.
The misconception is that initiatives attempting to mobilize new voters, such as youth and working class voters, were actually just trying to increase votes for Democratic candidate John Kerry. Although this may have been the intent of the campaigners, it was not the result. Campaigns to initiate new groups to vote almost never benefit one party. While more people may be voting, they just represent a smaller version of the overall outcome. The percentages of those voting for each candidate overall remain roughly the same.
In a question and answer session about his mobilization organization, Motor Voter, Bernard Grofman was asked if Democrats would benefit more from his efforts than Republicans.
Grofman responded that, “Present non-voters are by and large … less knowledgeable about politics than people who regularly vote and thus more likely to be swept away by electoral tides that favor the winner – whether that winner is a Republican or a Democrat.”
Those Democrats who are enticed to go to the polls by mobilization efforts are often not the far-left liberals anticipated, but the moderate Democrats who vote across party lines; the same Democrats who supported the Reagan administration.
Those groups targeted by Democrats are also notoriously unreliable in their willingness to actually show up at the polls. There is an old saying that if Election Day brings inclement weather it will be a good year for Republicans, because Democrats will not brave the rain while Republicans show up at the polls regardless of extenuating circumstances.
Republicans also underestimate their own following. There is a growing young conservative movement, a seeming reaction to our parents’ hippie generation. The only way to rebel against liberal parents is to turn conservative, and that is precisely what a number of young people are doing. Think modern day Michael J. Foxes from Family Ties. Because of this growing group, organizations encouraging the youth vote can actually benefit the Republican Party. The final results from the presidential election, according to CNN.com, show that while 54 percent of voters 18 to 29 supported Sen. John Kerry, a significant 45 percent voted for President Bush. The youngest voters are not as left-leaning as they appear.
And Democrats, although they do it more loudly, are not the only ones mobilizing likely supporters. The GOP managed to mobilize many Christian voters, an effort that had a decided effect on the election.
According to National Public Radio’s election analyst, Mike Pesca, “… more evangelical Christians did vote [in 2004 than in 2000], and more of them voted for Bush.”
The percentage of conservative Christians voting in this presidential election increased. And though the numerical amount of the Democratic-targeted youth vote increased, their percentage out of total voters remained the same.
The Republicans reaped the benefits of their mobilization while the Democrats did not because the percentage of those targeted only increased at the same rate as overall voter turnout.
Republicans should not resist movements for voter mobilization because increased voter turnout does not hurt their chances at the polls. More often than not it does not greatly help either party, and in this particular presidential election the increased participation of evangelical Christians actually could have been the deciding factor in President Bush’s victory.
Voter mobilization does not solely benefit the Democratic Party, even if that is what the organizers of these campaigns have in mind. The GOP needs to realize that more people voting only means more people taking an interest in politics and taking advantage of living in a democracy.
It is an embarrassment that the United States is second only to Switzerland in low voter turnout in their democratic elections. Increased voter turnout is a matter of civic pride and is something to be embraced, not resisted, by both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Emilie Haertsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.