The blizzard of emails amongst the Republican volunteers following an election in which Massachusetts voters rejected a slate of admirable Republican candidates is a sign that the volunteers will not need to conduct a postmortem — that is, a review following death.
The Massachusetts GOP, the Massachusetts Tea Party movement, and the independent, conservative portion of the citizenry are not dead. Manifestly, their governing principle is the recognition that their struggle must be conducted over a cycle of several elections, and that they must be objective and ruthless in their analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, and those of the corresponding Massachusetts Democratic machine.
Why did Massachusetts voters re-elect an all-Democratic congressional delegation?
They even re-elected Congressman John Tierney, whose wife pleaded guilty in federal court shortly before the election to laundering $7,000,000 on behalf of her fugitive brother (she received a slap on the wrist from the court). Tierney argued that he has a “modern marriage” and did not know that his wife was managing such a large sum. He evidently did not have to make the argument that her sentence, including a minuscule fine, was redolent. His excuse is an insult to common sense.
Numerous, similar examples may be listed for Massachusetts and for certain other states, like California, in which the vote cannot be explained from the viewpoint of reasoned behavior. Conservatives represent that they make decisions based on an objective determination of facts and of human nature. Why did the election turn out the way it did, and why did so many voters vote for Democrats?
The Democratic narrative is that they turned out their base with their “ground game,” and that resulted in the win. That puts the emphasis on the importance of the labor unions, which provide the muscle and structure for the ground game, and deemphasizes the importance of the policy debate that is supposed to be considered in election campaigns. The newspapers reported that Democrats had people at the polls checking off the registered Democrats who had voted, telephoning those registered Democratic voters who had not voted, and getting them to the polls to vote. Did turnout win the election?
A review of the voting in the Fourth Congressional District does not support the contention that the policy swelled the total vote, but if there is an assumption that the Democratic base would not have matched the energy of the Republican vote, the contention has merit. The overall turnouts for recent elections: 203,032 for November 2008; 228,687 for Scott Brown’s special election; and 233,439 for November 2010. Considering that Frank beat Bielat by 24,508 votes, voter turnout was not the decisive factor. Bielat failed to get the percentage of the vote that Scott Brown got.
In his arrogant and graceless victory speech, Frank crowed that the visit to Taunton by President Clinton was decisive in increasing his vote in Taunton, where he allegedly won the election. The facts do not support the contention. Taunton’s turnout was 22,732 for November 2008, 15,511 for Scott Brown’s election, and 16,531 for November 2010; an increase of only 1,020 votes. A comparison of the elections for the Democratic municipalities shows the same pattern; the biggest vote by far was in November 2008, a presidential year. In Sharon, Newton, and Brookline, the total vote was less than in Scott Brown’s election, and exceeded the vote in Fall River (317) and in New Bedford (1,578).
The biggest factor in turnout is whether or not it is a presidential year. I do not have the numbers for blank votes cast in 2010, nor are they reliable numbers for the effect of voter fraud. Anecdotal, eyewitness testimony supports an inference that urban voter fraud is significant and would be decisive in close elections.
There is much work to be done to improve the ground game, but a problem cannot be fixed unless we know what actually goes through the voter’s mind when he or she casts their vote. Dieter Dorner points out in The Logic of Failure that people will hold on to opinions even after facts show that the opinion should be abandoned. I believe that people do so because their confirmation bias prevents them from believing facts contrary to their pre-existing opinions, so they rationalize away the facts.
A strategy assuming that if Republicans give the voters the facts that compel the conclusion they should change their voting default preference is premature and ineffective. The first task is to confront and defeat the confirmation bias.
Conservatives are now getting to work figuring it all out.