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In this debate, you're never going to persuade the pro-turnout people that they're wrong. To win it, you're just going to have to organize the pro-persuasion people and get them to the polls.

After all, there's a huge untapped reservoir of pro-persuasion people who already agree with you. You just need to mobilize them, by emphasizing the most extreme and unpersuasive pro-persuasion lines, and demonizing everyone on the pro-turnout side. That should do the trick.

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It was an article of faith among the left for many years that demographic changes and turnout would help Democrats. A few years back the NYT showed that the reservoir of non-voters had beliefs more aligned with Republicans than Democrats. The inability of the left to assimilate these data, in addition to ignoring the backlash effect of base mobilization, is just sad.

It leaves me with a simple voting rubric: Democrats are stupid but Republicans are malign. I'll take stupid over malign, but both sides make it hard.

PS - I couldn't find the Times article or would have cited it

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Interestingly I’d argue Republicans are also stupid given that Kari Lake tried to make the same argument but from the right

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I see what you did there.

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I would posit that Democrats didn't do very much to persuade Republicans to vote for them. Instead, the Trump-selected candidates were demonstrably awful. Dr. Oz is a charlatan and a resident of NJ. Herschel Walker can't string three sentences together and, oh by the way, had affairs, multiple kids out of marriage and funded abortions. Kari Lake came closest to a normal candidate, but she was all-in on "the election was stolen" silliness, as we can see from her current, meritless lawsuits.

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But arguably not actively trying to alienate voters is itself a form of persuasion.

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It sounds kind of like Obama's "don't do stupid stuff", but "don't be a jackass" is an underrated approach to life and politics.

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I think Trump scrambled people's brains on this. He won despite all expectations. People thought that being a jackass no longer mattered. Yet as Matt has pointed out, Trump had other stuff going for him: Democrats trying to win a 3rd term in the White House, a mediocre economy, Hillary Clinton's own weaknesses as a candidate, and Trump's (false, but convincing to swing voters) appearance of moderating on entitlement reform. Republicans should've been favored given those facts, and someone like Kasich would've probably won by more.

Republicans have consistently paid an electoral price for Trump's antics. It just hasn't been as impactful as most Democrats (including myself) have hoped.

You see a similar thing with Dobbs. Democrats clearly seemed to be doing better in special elections after it happened. They also tended to do well in swing states where state-level abortion rights are probably more at play than super blue or red states. It just wasn't enough to keep the House.

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This is the part I have to remember. I have to remind myself that Trump way underperformed what a "Normie Republican" would have done. For someone like myself, I still to this day can't believe more than 10% of Americans thought this guy should run a lemonade stand let alone be President. And yet, I think a swing voter can somewhat reasonably say "you said George W Bush was rerunning the crusades, secretly controlled by Dick Cheney and oil companies and was the stupidest man ever to be President. So how is Trump different?" Basically, it's the boy who cried wolf problem come to life. (Works the other way of course. If say Sean Penn became the Dem nominee in 2024 and ran on a full blow Hugo Chavez platform and Marco Rubio comes out and says Penn is a dangerous Communist. A swing voter can say 'you said Biden was a dangerous socialist too!")

I bring up Rubio because if he ran in 2016 on a traditional GOP platform, but say also included an increased CTC and $15 minimum wage as part of his agenda (and basically downplayed any attempts to cut entitlements), I suspect we wins up to 55% of the vote. In other words, I think Trump cost GOP 5-10% of vote share in 2016; which is actually kind of massive.

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I remember when there was a "debate" on Fox news with a former Obama advisor. This person was saying that Trump was a fascist, and pointed to, as evidence, Trump saying things that were blatantly fascist.

The response, however, was just derision and laughter. Basically "He's not a fascist, WTF". And that's because there is a very long tradition of far left people calling perfectly normal politicians "fascists", to the point where the term lost meaning and no one could take it seriously anymore, even when the target of the claim was quite literally behaving like a fascist.

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RemovedDec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022
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I kind of agree in a couple of ways. One your three groups are likely pretty accurate. My experience is that there are a lot of people in group A or B but claim to be (or believe to be) in Group C. I think organizing helped clarify this to me; get people talking enough and you start to see where conversations lead. Funnily enough I'd say being at sports bars a lot has led me to see that a lot more people are in category A and B then they want to admit (get a few beers in someone and they get a lot more willing to speak their mind so to speak).

I do think there is genuinely a large number of people in group C. But I think you might need to add a fourth category that sort of unites the other three; people who believe that the system is rigged against white people. This can include people who believe racisms against black people exist but think racism (or the system) being against white people is worse. I think animates a ton of the animus towards "hand outs", "lazy people who don't want to work", "those people" etc.

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I thought that Trump did drive Republican turnout, but at the cost of driving Democratic turnout. The result was that he and republicans underperformed and lost in 2020 and 2018. But in 2016, despite losing the popular vote, he won.

So, maybe the rule should be: turnout strategies generally fail, but if you have a structural geographic electoral advantage, you might get lucky and win once a decade.

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He seemed to drive 2-party turnout in 2020, but not really in 2016, which had unusually high levels of 3rd party voting.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

On the other hand, being a jackass has worked for an awfully big number of politicians on both sides of the aisle for a very long time with minimal if any consequences (and/or extremely delayed consequences when they do arrive), so assuming that being a jackass is desirable for the jackasses in questions, maybe "don't be a jackass" is actually overrated.

I'm really not just trying to put that out there as a troll, I mean it in all seriousness: Cuomo, Menendez (still in office), Graham ("use my words against me"), McConnell (similar SCOTUS nonsense amidst too much other tomfoolery to name), and an essentially endless list of others (also, you know, Trump did get the White House for four years, and if he's not a jackass no one is). Jackassery among the political classes really does seem to be generating pretty good returns at pretty moderate costs whether or not it's technically a growth industry, and that isn't a particularly new phenomenon (Teapot dome?). ETA: People seem pretty on board with a Klobuchar presidency and I feel like "worst boss on the Hill" probably falls somewhere under the jackassery umbrella. Also Lyndon Johnson comes to mind -- talk about someone you hope you never have to deal with in person....

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Yeah there's a better way to frame this for sure.

Depending on the context being a jackass can help a lot sometimes, and jackass might not be the right word for things as well.

Being the "worst boss on the hill" was part of klobuchar's problem when running for president though, so it could be said that it (sometimes) acts as a limiting factor to how high up you can rise?

Menendez, graham, and McConnell are all in safe states as well, so there's something there I think.

And Cuomo being a jackass committed to the eventual downfall, I think, so who knows.

For Trump it probably helps that he absolutely committed to being the jackass, and he also insisted that he was the people's jackass.

Maybe this could be a mailbag question or something...

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There are a lot of 'vote against' rather than 'vote for' voters, and Klobuchar is up there on my list.

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The republicans trying and failing at ultra-partisan mobilization should make the same case, though.

It. [CLAP] Don’t. [CLAP] Work. [CLAP]

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I [CLAP] agree.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

I [CLAP] know, [CLAP] but [CLAP] gotta [CLAP] use [CLAP] the [CLAP] latest [CLAP] rhetorical [CLAP] style! [CLAP]

:P [CLAP]

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founding

I think this style is a few years out of date now.

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Is it? Good, I'd hate to be labeled a vanguardist.

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What is going on here?

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Best not to dwell on it.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

I’m [CLAP] not [CLAP] using [CLAP] the [CLAP] app! [CLAP]

And I don’t have the emoji library enabled because it gets in the way of switching between English and Mandarin quickly.

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You should just be able to Google for "clap emoji", and then you can highlight it and copy and paste like any other text character.

But I'm upvoting just for hating on apps, they deserve to be hated upon.

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That sounds like a lot of work.

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It's more fun to type it though!

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While it's certainly true Walker was a terrible candidate and Oz was bad, I think your first sentence is wrong. As Matt writes, Democratic candidates like Warnock and Cortez Masto made campaign decisions that were designed to persuade Republicans to vote for them.

(As an aside, Cortez Masto's opponent Adam Lexalt wasn't a "demonstrably awful" candidate so your theory here works at best for two of the three senate races at best)

I think it could be fair to say "well, the candidates TRIED to do that, but all the effort the Warnock campaign put into messaging was totally irrelevant because Herschel Walker was so bad it overwhelmed any messaging effect." So if you're correct here, the Democratic candidates might as well have adopted tons of unpopular left wing messaging stances because they're not in control of their own destinies: they're gonna win because of who their opponents are and not because of anything they say or do.

But I think that's wrong and the data is a strong indicator the moderating message helps.

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Agreed, CCM's win in Nevada, and Beasley only losing by 4 in NC (in a tough midterm environment in which her party had WH incumbency), suggests Dems ran good campaigns in these swing races, and it wasn't just that Republicans nominated bad candidates.

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Pennsylvania is a pretty good case study of this. Fetterman beat Oz for senator but Josh Shapiro beat Mastriano for governor by like 15 points. Oz is a charlatan but Mastriano is a crackpot. There are plenty of people who are going to hold their nose and vote for a charlatan from their party but will vote for the opposing party's candidate if their own party nominates a crackpot.

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I think the closeness of the Senate race is because of Fetterman's obviously impaired state after his stroke. If he had been healthy, I think he'd have won by a margin close to Shapiro's.

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I think the bigger factor here is just that Governor and US Senator are different positions with different partisan dynamics going on. People are much more likely to vote for the opposite party in Governor races than Senate races, because Senators are much more directly tied to the national party brand. For example, there was a huge delta between the Governor and Senate races in Kansas this year.

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The most important thing either party can do to persuade people to vote for it is nominate a candidate with greater, broader appeal than the other side's candidate.

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I think both turnout people and persuasion people would agree that you shouldn’t nominate a candidate with CTE (or some other fatal defect)

The question is, given that Democrats didn’t and Republicans did, does Warnock’s victory tell us *anything* about the debate Matt describes?

Walker was so obviously horrible, it confounds any other conclusions you could draw.

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It proves that split-ticket voting is a thing. That there are voters who are not so partisan that they won't care about candidate quality etc.

That's pretty banal, but just _accepting_ that as true might help people try to be more persuasive (or at least polite) to cross-pressured voters.

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"I think both turnout people and persuasion people would agree that you shouldn’t nominate a candidate with CTE (or some other fatal defect)"

I'm not ready to totally disagree with this (and I'm aware that this occurred post nomination), but I think it's worth noting that Fetterman won despite literally suffering a stroke before the election....

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Ha, yes I was thinking about that, and all I can say in reply is that (to my knowledge) no candidate with aphasia has ever run for high office, so we can’t say how much of a defect voters actually consider that.

Philanderers, carpetbaggers, pedophiles, dumbasses, “legitimate rape”, sure. But anecdotally, you heard about voters who were actually sympathetic to Fetterman because they’ve known people who had medical crises, and they were upset that the Oz campaign was making that an issue.

Likewise, voters occasionally elect dead people, apparently not considering that a disability.

But what do I know; I was certain his stroke, and in particular his debate performance, would sink Fetterman.

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The 2022 Senate elections were a repeat of 2010 in that regard. In both these years, Republicans threw away a possible Senate majority with terrible nominee choices. Remember Sharon Angle, who was such a nutcase that she lost to Harry Reid even though his approval rating was in the 30s? And Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell, who defeated the eminently electable Mike Castle in the primary and then became a late-night comic punchline?

This is what happens when your base is hideously misinformed and has beliefs about reality that are totally misaligned with those of swing voters: they pick terrible candidates. This is what Fox News has wrought: more hardcore Republicans, but a Republican Party less able to win the middle.

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I’d make an exception for Warnock, Klobuchar also does this in MN. Usually it’s not on left-right issues though in Klobuchar’s case at least - she really likes getting press on esoteric and boring local issues

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Yes, Republicans lost more than Democrats won.

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Warnock clearly did enough of that, and one could see that, backlit, in the criticism he received after a debate with Walker in which he purposely strived to maintain an impression of balance and fairness.

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Great article! It is yet another solid analysis and argument for courting swing voters. The 2022 election data provides exceptionally strong evidence against mobilization theory.

Yet it won’t convince the proponents of this theory to abandon it in favor of courting swing voters. This is because they didn’t calculate their way into mobilization theory based on any polling/voting data but instead adopted it as a post hoc justification for why they needn’t abandon their most unpopular policies and messaging. We simply can’t reason people out of ideas that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.

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Half the time I suspect many of these folks are fine with losing so long as they get to feel vanguardist and superior. In context, winning and having to show some-to-most of their views are shared with the hoi polloi is not only irritating and difficult; it’s actively bad.

A great deal of the struggle seen by the Democratic coalition in recent years can be explained best by the notion that a large fraction of its youth vote cares about politics mainly as a status symbol, holding rapidly-changing luxury beliefs about politics the same way they interact with music and other aspects of culture. The more unusual and undiscovered by the masses, the better, and if a view ever becomes popular, move on to the next one.

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I think for several years, a large group on the left wants to blame voters rather than court them, and mobilization theory allows you to do that while believing that it doesn’t hurt Democrats.

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Which of course makes it much harder to persuade voters because who wants to vote for a candidate from a party that insults people who don't vote for them.

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For the most part agree, however, I'll caveat your point by saying sure it's all that different on the right. Think the difference is on the right the people who care about politics mainly as a status symbol are voters over the age of 45. Honestly, just look at the fact that there was no GOP platform in 2020. If anything, having "luxury beliefs" (Twitter is the great Satan against the right) as your core message seems much more a problem in the Right than the Left right now.

By the way, people in general (not just young people) seeing politics as status symbol is a story going back to at least the 60s. You can probably explain a lot of the Hippie movement in this way honestly (guessing there is a Maslow's hierarchy of needs phenomenon going on). As an anecdote, when I did field organizing in Maine, I was assigned Portland, ME as my territory. Now if you are know the political geography of Maine, you know Portland is the most left-wing part of the state. So, in theory, I had an easy assignment, right? Not exactly. My boss specifically warned me that you'll get a lot of people saying all the right things about ACA (was doing field organizing around ACA in 2009), but getting people to volunteer or show up to events or just do general organizing leg work? Actually, a harder task than in other parts of the state.

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Absolutely.

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Also, I just wanted to say when I first saw your username for a second I thought former Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy had suddenly gotten really interested in land use.

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"Upzoning and calling the right plays for Patrick Mahomes to thrive. How creating the right rules and framework can lead to success"

- By Matt Nagy

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

"We simply can’t reason people out of ideas that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place."

I'm slightly more optimistic about this than you, because it turns out that even if mobilization was a mood-affiliative belief system it also by happy coincidence turned out to be a testable hypothesis -- and one that got utterly smashed by the results. Potentially this could be more like how sympathy with the Soviet Union is no longer a seriously held position in a post-1989 world.

EDIT: Emphasis on "slightly," though. I think the key is more that the strategists with skin in the game will probably pay attention to this even if rank and file Twitterati just keep on keepin' on.

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So I think this is true for a lot of people in the activist community, but certainly not all. There's still something to be gained by persuading them - as some will go one to make persuasive cases within their organizations.

In a way, the idea that "you can't reason people out of ideas they didn't reason themselves into" is similar to the point Matt is arguing against. It's a bit like looking at the most deplorable of Trump voters and saying "well anything that person would find persuasive is morally unfeasible, so let's just ignore anyone who doesn't already agree with us." Yeah, it's true that there are some people who made bad decisions, justified them with "mobilization theory" and are sticking to their guns no matter what. But there are also plenty of people who just signed along with someone else's theory cause it seemed like a good idea at the time and are now looking for an alternative.

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Also, you don't even necessarily need to change people's minds. People are a mix of strong and weakly held beliefs. There are plenty of positions that actually do have cross-party appeal (Matt tries to highlight them) or aren't fundamentally partisan issues. You can focus on those broad issues.

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"We simply can’t reason people out of ideas that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place."

I can't tell if you're trying to be ironic here like dysphemistic treadmill or not?

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I inquired if he was being ironic because, "We simply can’t reason people out of ideas that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place" has been one of the major justifications by the "Turnoutists" for writing off any possibility of attracting swing voters.

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I think you and FrigidWind (above) are saying exactly the same thing.

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My devil's advocate case for the mobilization approach. The most time-tested means for increasing voter mobilization is for the potential voters to get older: as people get older, their voting rates go up a lot. Now even if young people don't vote (and they don't), if you can get them on your side now so that when they're older and do start voting, they're so convinced by you that the other side is horrible that they'd never consider voting for them, then you have a glide path to many future victories.

And that's why a mobilization strategy, as opposed to saying nice things about the other side, is good.

Sincerely,

The Devil

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So she's a McClellan, not a Grant. Woo! I thought of a Civil War analogy.

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I think you mean she's Winfield Scott not McClellan.

Dukakis is more McClellan; a leader with a lot of top level skills who was undone by his seeming belief that his opponent was stronger than he really was, which led to timid responses and tactics (See his famous terrible responses debate questions and the infamous Tank episode) which actually really did help cede the advantage to his opponent and lead to their own downfall (Dukakis steadily losing support through 88 campaign, McClellan retreating on the Penninsula and not pressing his advantage after Antietam).

Should mention, History graduate from William & Mary 06. Specific focus on American History. If you're not careful, I could go all day with comparisons between modern day leaders and Civil War figures. It's amazing I found anyone to actually marry me...LOL.

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I know we're mostly a bunch of nerds, but nice to see it confirmed...lol

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

Biden is the Dems' Sherman.

Given up for lost early in the war/primary season. Found a champion who breathed new life into his career in Grant/Obama. Won the great battle that turned the tide (Atlanta/South Carolina primary) and then completed the victory (March through Georgia etc/general election).

Over to you, Colin Chaudhuri.

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For now I guess it's Warnock

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Dec 14, 2022·edited Dec 14, 2022

Yeah I saw a quote from Abrams' campaign manager blaming Abrams' loss on her work as an organizer and activist making her easy for Republicans to attack and driving down her popularity. Well, there's a reason that political organizers/activists and frontline politicians tend to be different people. To win election in a competitive state you need to not be seen as overly partisan, and political organizers are by definition some of the most partisan people out there. I'll bet if Marc Elias ran for governor in a purple state he would do terribly. After 2018 Abrams should have either become a full-time organizer behind the scenes or focused full-time on winning over Georgia voters. Her attempt to do both backfired on her.

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In any spectator sport, be it politics or football, it is common for fans to assume that the win or loss is caused by the good or bad performance of the team/player they are rooting for. For example, if your team wins the world series on a home run, it's because the hitter on your team came through in the clutch. But, if your team loses the world series on a home run, now, you blame the pitcher, rather than credit the batter.

It's the same in politics. It's easy for someone rooting for Democrats to blame Abram's loss on something related to Abrams. But, I think the real reason was not Abrams, but Kemp. Kemp resisted Trump's calls to try to overturn the 2020 election. Swing voters rewarded him in 2022. End of story.

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Agree 100%

I think the really tricky part is to do the organizing in a way that doesn't lead to picking the wrong generals to back. At the most basic level, political organizing is finding people who share some of the same views and getting them to talk to each other. This is great! But it can also cause insular groupthink and actually entrench ideas like "turnout is all that matters."

I'm not saying it's impossible of course! It's just that I'm someone wary of anyone who is really good at organizing, but only does so in ways that galvanize the base and push out folks who don't share every idea on the platform.

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In the early 2010s, I wrote a lot for a Democratic polling firm about how data suggested people's partisan preferences were increasingly baked in and Democrats needed to take advantage of the low hanging fruit that people with Democratic leaning characteristics were voting at lower rates by mobilizing them to vote.

I realized I was wrong after 2016 and have tried to atone for my error and I truly don't understand how people can still hang onto the mobilization theory at this point.

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I worked multiple election cycles between 2012 and 2018, there's an undeniable appeal to "turnout" theory -- which is essentially that it is substantially less work to convince someone who agrees with you to go vote once every couple of years than it is to convince someone who votes reliably for the other person to switch sides.

What we missed is that a) it's not true (and not voting is as powerful a cultural preference as one's political affiliation) and b) the math doesn't work that way, in that by convincing a swing voter or flipping a marginal voter, you're actually denying the other party a vote even as you gain a vote for your side.

There's another factor here, which is key to the way that Democratic field staffers are trained to engage prospective voters and targets for volunteer recruitment, which is the idea or belief that emotions resonate more with people than facts. If a field organizer or volunteer can authentically relay a personal story about why they are voting for a candidate, they don't need to have an answer ready for every single policy question. Not only does that mean that campaigns save time training and educating field staff, it means they can rely on a largely volunteer operation and save money on paid canvassers and advertising. And for a party that for a long time had convinced itself its voters needed "to fall in love" with their candidates, that's a big deal.

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Georgia voter here. It's underappreciated how big the difference is between voting for a Senator or Representative, vs state offices. Voting for Brian Kemp doesn't have enormous national implications. Voting for Warnock or Walker does. The stakes are much higher for the Senate race. I, and many Democrats, would vote for a bag of sand if it had a D after it's name. It doesn't matter what experience it has or how qualified it is, if it will caucus and vote with the Democrats, that's all I need. Many Republicans here feel the same way. It doesn't matter if the candidate is problematic, the goal is to have that vote in the Senate. They are just one vote for national issues.

Kemp and other statewide officers in Georgia don't have that same baggage of being tied to the national situation.

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That highlights a more fundamental problem with our politics. The incentives should not align to vote for a bag of sand, yet a non-trivial number of people vote this way.

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This is a side effect of the transition from weak to strong parties, one that coincides with the Southern Realignment in which the South now just votes R instead of voting for Southern Democrats who hate the Northern Democrats. I agree it sucks though, because Muttrox is bang on about the "bag of sand with a D after it name" state of affairs at present and you're absolutely right that this intrinsically seems like a dumb way to elect people and/or bags of sand.

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I'd say it's the opposite - the shift from strong to weak parties which, IMO, has been a major factor in political sorting and negative partisanship.

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Agreed. It's a shift to weak parties but very strong partisanship.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

By weak parties are you referring to the greater importance of primaries rather than party bosses in candidate selection?

In my case I was referring basically to the absence of plausible individual defection (e.g,. Sinema and Manchin make headlines precisely because everyone else is just going to toe the D party line, and McConnell has to basically give the go-ahead before the R's are allowed to vote their conscience), which in turn is what makes the hypothetical bag of sand basically a replacement-level D candidate. Individualized positions don't matter nearly as much as the national party alignment these days, and that seems like it's a radical departure from the time when you had, e.g., an intraparty split on issues like civil rights (as well as nowhere near the same use of the filibuster) that meant the actual candidate's views mattered rather than just their party affiliation.

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Candidate selection is part of it for sure, but it doesn't end there. But in a binary system, a party also needs tools to make intra-party factions play nice and to develop a coherent party stance that candidates could be held accountable too. That doesn't exist anymore. Parties have no ability to protect incumbents., which makes it difficult for incumbents to make difficult votes. The other side of that coin is members can't be held accountable for heresy except via a primary threat. All this has lead to the cessation of normal order in the Congress, the deliberate political strategy of appealing to primary voters and the first-order value, and empowered leadership over the committees.

Our political parties are a complete aberration compared to every other advanced democracy. They are unable to do the basic functions of any political party, such as control their own brand, build and enforce a platform, etc.

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"Parties have no ability to protect incumbents., which makes it difficult for incumbents to make difficult votes."

Surely the DCCC counts here, right? Also the incumbency advantage is generally considered to be really big on its own without any help (See, e.g., Feinstein, Dianne). Also doesn't empowering leadership over the committees comprise a form of intraparty discipline, as well as the control that leadership exerts over the membership of Congressional (and especially Senate, since the House has been a purely partisan body since forever) Committees?

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Yet Republican house candidates in Georgia ran roughly even with Kemp. It’s not really that Kemp overperformed, his 53.5% is a 3 point improvement from 2018 which can easily be explained by Biden’s unpopularity.

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Excellent point. A great empirical check would be a state (preferably swing-ish state) that has noticeably more moderate gop senate candidates than governor. Was there such in 2022?

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>>Democrats won key races by persuading a small but nonzero number of Republicans to vote for them<<

This is what I find so striking. As a proponent of popularism, the conventional wisdom I had absorbed was that there was a limited number of persuadable voters out there. They're not obsessed with politics. They get their news from the big three networks. They're not on Twitter. And so on. Limited, yes, but, that ten or fifteen percent is critically important—and so you've gotta persuade them to vote your way.

But that conventional wisdom (at least per my recollection) also said that nearly all of the rest of the electorate was—even if they're registered Independents—functionally loyal Democrats or Republicans. But it turns out even "loyal" Democrats (or at least Republicans) can sometimes be persuaded otherwise. Fascinating.

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It might just be that I live in a purple area of a purple state but I'd at least double those percentages to 20-30%.

And that's higher if you include infrequent voters who can sometimes be turned out, but not reliably for one party. If the infrequent voters were reliably D or R they'd probably be frequent voters.

But stepping back from anecdota to data, county-level margin swing percentage from one election to the next suggest a minimum of 5-10% of voters switching their votes each and every 4 years. And unless we assume they are the same people switching back and forth like a pendulum, it clearly adds up to something much higher than 5-10% over several cycles.

All that is to say, I think there are quite a lot of persuadable voters up for grabs each election.

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I was too young to vote in 1968 so my first vote was 1972. McGovern was my dream candidate, and I was gob-smacked when he lost 49 states to a reprobate like Richard Nixon. During the run-up to the election I was working in the kitchen of a lobster shack in Maine where many of my co-workers were from South Carolina and Ohio who assured me I was an idiot. But I've gotten older and wiser as I've aged, and, though I mostly vote Dem, I've also voted for Republicans. I suppose that makes me an independent. Times move on, issues change, the Vietnam war ended. What's timeless is young people thinking the old are daft, and the old returning the favor. Their votes reflect it, as do the issues they think important.

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Plus we are in the middle of a realignment with working class voters increasingly going for the GoP and educated voters increasingly going for the Democrats.

But to add to your thesis, there were about 4-5 million voters who voted for Obama and then Trump - a decisive number.

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Matt doesn’t mention his independents in his piece, but they do exist. there aren’t as many of them as there used to be, but they are a large enough cohort to be decisive. So I think the story here is less about swing Republicans than independents.

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Which also has certain implications for the notion that huge numbers of people on either side are prepared to, for instance, undermine a government run by the other side, or up and start shooting them, or fight to end free and fair elections.

But that notion is mostly being peddled by each sides “mobilization” theorists so they’ll ignore the lesson and continue droning on about how it’s inevitable that the other side will put an end to democracy and kill us all.

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I can think of three factors that aggravate the belief on the left that mobilization is the answer:

1. They see that voter turnout, even when elevated, is still below peers in the world, and that untapped reservoir of voting must be able to be tapped in their favor.

2. They saw that turnout did in increase in 2020, not just for Biden but also Trump (the latter of whom oddly got more people to vote for him in his 2020 loss than his 2016 victory) and think that they have to fight fire with fire.

3. Many are still scarred from the Ralph Nader experience of 2000, and fear that if the base left isn't spoken to, a third party challenge from the left will emerge.

Now, I tend to lean toward a more boring, annoying ice cold take of ¿por qué no los dos? when it comes to mobilization and persuasion; I don't think they have to be mutually exclusive. But there's certainly limits in play, and dissonance on strategies that aren't helpful, well, won't help.

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As far as 1 is concerned, I would start by trying to limit how many things people vote on. I don't believe I've ever voted on more than four things on the same Election Day, but sporadic American voters are expected to vote on offices they probably haven't even heard of. I don't think that the average American has the time to track what's going on in all these races (because voters back in my home country certainly don't).

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I'd be curious to learn more about if there's causation between long ballots and lower voter turnout, but I do agree on the merits that there are too many elected offices.

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The California ballot is notoriously War and Peace sized. One of the hardest things I've learned as a voter is to not vote selectively. It's gotten easier, and now I freely ignore all the candidates for state supreme court, superior court judges, local school board (I've no kids in school), community college board etc etc. It's very freeing.

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I've long decided not to vote on some of the arcane stuff on my ballot, too. No one should feel bad on doing so if they have no opinion on the matter.

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I'd even say one should feel bad for voting on something or someone if they have no idea what it is or who they are

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Sometimes I get on a partisan high horse and think in general Democrats are smarter and more reasonable than Republicans. But then Stacey Abrams is always there to remind me Democrats also live in their own delusional worldview. Stacey Abrams is a terrible candidate. She's lost two elections, and she famously refused to concede due to unfounded allegations of voter fraud. Yet my entire twitter timeline has somehow convinced itself she's a political superstar. She's not! Can we please, please put this one to bed and let her go write books or whatever.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

There is a serious non sequitur here. Swing voters more important than turnout of base: got it, correct. But it does NOT necessarily follow that the reason these “swing” voters sometimes split their ticket or switch sides is because of either the moderate messaging of democratic candidates or their stated policies much less their voting record.

It could be , for instance, that the splitting we saw was mostly negative - punishing bad gop candidates via voting for democrats, and that those democrats moderation was either unnecessary or necessary but insufficient.

Moreover, even if having an effect, It’s also possible that moderation (in brand, perception, or policy position) can have diminishing returns: having established “sanity” would further shifts to the right continually increase the vote share, as MY implies, or would it plateau at some point or even start decreasing total vote share as base turnout starts to be negatively impacted?

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Absolutely! Just look at the billboard in Matt's post: it's not doing policy-oriented persuasion at all (it doesn't even mention Warnock), it's all about creating a permission structure for Republicans disgusted with their nominee to stay home or split their vote.

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I think the problem with mobilization theory is that it disproportionately relies on young people, because that's the biggest group of non-voters you could mobilize. And relying on young people to win an election for you... yeah, I don't know about that.

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I’m in my mid-50’s now, there has always been this dream of young voters consistently delivering election victories to liberal candidates. Not much has changed since at least the 1980’s IMO.

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While younger people are on average more progressive than older people, the skew isn't large enough to perpetually deliver landslides.

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I saw some memes circulating around social media after the election claiming that "Gen Z" saved us from the red wave. I don't know where this idea came from but my guess is a combination of bad exit poll data and wishful thinking.

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Better than the poe-theeds--even though there is plenty of overlap between the two.

https://frinkiac.com/video/S13E16/QhOcyv-Nt8estlXgcAGDeP4rhPY=.gif

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This is why I get so annoyed at my far-left friends who think that you can increase voter turnout by staging rallies and shouting at innocent passersby through a bullhorn. That’s the opposite of trying to change minds.

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I think a big factor behind mobilization theory is social media. When's the last time you convinced someone and they admitted they were wrong on the Internet? For highly engaged and ideological voters, they're talking less with people they know, but strangers online. Persuasion isn't all that effective there, although the likes and shares can be evidence of your arguments merit. Mobilizing seems like a better bet.

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I think it's also fair to point out that "mobilization theorists" aren't completely delusional -- there are fewer swing voters than there were 40+ years ago. It's just that there are still a statistically significant number of swing voters or "swing-curious" voters in many jurisdictions and it appears to be easier to move people who are already predisposed to vote than it is to juice base turnout much further.

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Terrific piece, per usual.

From here in North Carolina, one big phenomenon we saw in this election was that the Dem base just didn't really turn out, as it did in many states. Mecklenburg county (Charlotte), a gigantic vote sink that has a non-trivial % of Democratic votes for the entire state, had an abysmal turnout that doomed Beasley. The same was broadly true downballot, as well - ex. young voters had predictably terrible turnout statewide.

So not only did the "base mobilization" strategy not get our candidates over the line, but it failed utterly.

As Matt points out, getting your base to GOTV is essentially a technical question of party apparatus that is related, but sort of separate from, candidate messaging. Base GOTV is nevertheless essential to winning, though, especially in highly inelastic states like North Carolina. But it's a necessary-not-sufficient condition.

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Recall that the DSCC actually asked Jeff to run in 2020. He declined, because he didn't like the strategy they proposed, and that's why they went with Cal Cunningham's sleeper campaign instead (and we saw how that turned out). When Jeff eventually decides to run, he'll win. The NC Dem party is a total shambles.

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Amusingly, that is the value that Abrams brought to the table; she built a party organization that wasn't a total shambles.

That she herself couldn't use it to win through to the governor's chair as originally intended doesn't detract from the achievement of helping to get two Democratic Senators through in 2020 and '22.

The demographic tailwinds in GA merely made that achievement possible, they did not guarantee it.

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This is best the Yglesias article on this topic yet and I think it has the chance at being the most persuasive to reluctant progressives. This is the key bit that I've been waiting for the popularists to say:

"It’s a shitty reality, and I totally understand why folks resist facing up to it. And that’s what makes the mobilization myth so perennially tempting"

This is obviously a "them's the breaks" situation but people don't want to hear that. Just like Trump voters don't want to hear that we aren't importing illegal immigrants so we can give them sex change operations. As Yglesias often says of MAGA types, you have to meet people where they are at. The same goes with persuading progressives to moderate their rhetoric and to be less sanctimonious. Saying "people hate your views, get over it cupcake" isn't going to persuade a progressive and is just going to fire them up and cause them to double down on their rhetoric. These people may be misguided but they have good intentions and have some of the same end goals of better economic outcomes for everyone and and a more free and open society.

David Shor has been trending in this direction as well and I am glad to see Yglesias extend an olive branch. I realize it's just one little blurb, but that little blurb is a big fucking deal to progressives. It communicates that you realize it's hard to moderate your expectations about things your passionate about.

Bravo!

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Another way of looking at this is that Democrats won races where the collection of campaigns, PACs, and earned media directly and relentlessly attacked the conservative candidate.

I'm in GA and saw all the ads here. Warnock did a ton of great stuff to make himself look palatable to lots of people (the God stuff in particular helped IMO), but that was coupled with a ton of attack ads against Walker.

I'm not in PA, but the impression I got was that Fetterman did a really good job of not just using social media, but using it to directly attack Oz. I'm also not in OH, but the impression I got was that Ryan did a great job of making himself look likable, serious, and moderate, but it seemed like people were hoping Vance would fall over without ever having to throw a punch.

I'd be interested to hear from people in PA and OH on this.

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My son lives in WI and he felt pretty strongly that this was a problem for Barnes -- that he did not run negative ads against Johnson, while the DeVos family was running tons of negative ads against Barnes making him seem like a defund the police tax cheat. It seemed that he did not want to campaign that way, and he didn't lose by a lot, but given the outcome in the other statewide races this one was a bitter pill to swallow.

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Hey Dsep - I'm in PA. Unfortunately I'm not on Twitter or FB, so I can only speak to Youtube and TV ads (and some radio when I visit my mom).

During the campaign season I was actually discussing this very angle in the SB comments. Paraphrasing myself, from memory:

"where are the anti-Oz ads? Isn't this guy supposed to be some kind of pro-Trump quack doctor? So far the only things I've learned are he has houses in NJ (don't care) and he's pro-life / anti-choice which I would have assumed anyway"

Meanwhile the Oz attack ads on Fetterman seemed pretty well-designed to make him look like a radical and seemed like they'd be more effective than the comparable attack ads I was seeing from other GOP candidates.

Again, I'm only speaking for myself and I wasn't on FB. And normally I'd like to see less attack ads in politics. But this was one campaign where it felt like they were actually missing from one side.

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Fetterman did start, in the last month of the campaign, punching out an unending stream of attack ads in the Philadelphia and Harrisburg markets.

There was one in which the storyline was that a woman called into the Dr. Oz Show to ask for help with her son's asthma and the receptionist/operator repeatedly reminded her that Dr. Oz doesn't take patients and that air pollution is good for her son's lungs, and then suggests a bunch of quack "cures" for asthma that apparently appeared on the show.

That aired a bunch in the last two weeks of October and it seemed like a good ad.

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That's what I was expecting to see more of. I didn't see that one at all.

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Dunno, maybe SE markets only? Heard it, ironically, on the drive back from Newark Airport while still on the NJ side of the river.

Also, I wonder to what extent Fetterman's incident with the jogger saved his ass. I know at least one person who said "The man chased down a suspected criminal and held him at shotgun-point, how soft on crime can he be?"

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Good to see you, Wigan.

I should have specified that I am also not on socials and don't listen to radio, so I would have only seen traditional TV ads even in my area. There's probably all kinds of stuff I missed because of that.

My feeling on attack ads is kind of like Matt's feelings on accepting moderate candidates with a few positions I find distasteful. If attack ads are what wins, then we need to hold our noses and do them.

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Winning elections is really important when a leading Presidential candidate has tried to overthrow the U.S. government.

However, I don’t think electoral victories are hugely important under more normal political circumstances.

Many significant policy changes have very little to do with candidates winning elections. Same sex marriage didn’t catch on because Obama won, it caught on through persuading judicial elites to ignore the median voter. Marijuana legalization proceeded through referenda rather than legislation. The Iraq war happened because George W Bush wanted it to, not because pro invasion candidates crushed it in the 2002 midterms.

I’m not convinced individual Congressional elections are ever that important. The Republic survived Storm Thurmond and Jesse Helms polluting the senate for many decades. Indeed, the Thurmond era senate probably functioned better than today’s version.

Nor is it obvious that the Republic would be worse off today if Romney had won in 2012. Romney might have gotten Congress to pass more stimulus, and Trump could never have beaten an incumbent President in a Republican primary. Absent a maniac running for President, its very hard to know what actual effect running a given election will have.

Accordingly, It’s probably more rational for politically active citizens to focus on issue advocacy than electoral strategies.

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founding

The topics you chose to highlight say a lot about your priorities. The election of Obama and a Democratic trifecta led to the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid. The election of Biden and a Democratic trifecta led to the largest Clean Energy investment in history.

True, they didn't change the culture around marijuana and gay marriage, but elections have direct consequences around taxing and spending, which is what Congress is supposed to do anyway.

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Sort of. Georgia has yet to expand Medicaid. The Inflation Reduction Act put climate concerns to the front of the line and deprioritized kitchen table issues.

Neither party seems really interested in decarceration.

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I mean the reason that Georgia hasn't expanded Medicaid is that the GOP controls state government.

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I’m not arguing that no election has ever been important. I’m not arguing that electoral results are not important in the aggregate. I’m arguing that, at the margin, the effect an active citizen can have through trying to influence elections is probably less than the effect he can have through issue advocacy

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Thank Christ for that last.

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Which is unfortunate, because excessively long prison sentences, bad conditions in prisons, railroading innocent people into pleading guilty because the risk of insisting on the right to a fair trial is too high, and other practices of the criminal justice system, are genuinely bad.

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Dec 13, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022

This is correct if somewhat besides the point. In this case scotus decided with the majority , but sometimes it does not and that’s a feature, not a bug, contrary to what David implies. The whole point of the separation of powers is for judges not to rule by the view of the ad hoc majority but according to law, and of the Supreme Court to check the power of the majority by protecting individual rights. Thus Loving for example went against public opinion at the time but was no less justified for all that, and obergefell would have been correctly decided even if the poll numbers were quite different.

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That's the theory. But, when the judges on the Supreme Court are chosen by a partisan process to issue partisan rulings, it doesn't really work that way. In particular, every time a case comes before the court that impacts whether Democrats or Republicans control the government, all nine judges effectively have conflicts of interest. But, it's conflict of interest that is fundamentally unsolvable, since it is common to literally every person appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Ideally, we would have these electoral disputes go to alien judges on a distant planet, who really and truly don't care which party controls the United States government. In the real world, however, we don't have that, so we have to make due with what we do have, and what we do have is a system where whoever gets to appoint the judges wins the electoral disputes for as long as the judges are alive.

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The early states to legalize same sex marriage, eg Massachusetts, did so by judicial decision. That occurred in 2003 or 2004. The first same sex referendum to pass was Washington state in 2012.

Basically, state supreme courts imposed same sex marriage when it was unpopular, the sky didn’t fall in, opinion shifted.

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2015/06/26/same-sex-marriage-state-by-state-1/

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Referendum not until 2012, but in 2009 states(&DC) 3,4,5,6 - Iowa/Vermont/New Hampshire/D.C. - 3 of those did it by legislative vote. Iowa did it by court.

It does look like the Massachusetts court passed it at below 50% (48% support when they did it).

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