Sunday, December 06, 2009

Neat idea for campaigns (especially referenda): ask opponents to abstain

Jasmine Beach-Ferrera has an interesting idea for political campaigns' field operation in the Democratic Strategst: instead of only focusing on turning out the vote of those people that have been identified as supporters, send some people to the wavering opponents and ask them to abstain on the question instead of voting against it.

The problem is that most political campaigns give up on persuading people in the last two weeks or so and focus instead on ensuring that supporters actually vote -- just when the people who might change their mind pay the most attention to the issue.

As Beach-Ferrera puts it:

We present swing voters with a falsely dichotomous choice – vote no or yes – and then we abandon efforts to personally communicate with swing voters in the final month of the campaign, the period of time during which they are actually making up their mind.
Proposal: For many swing voters, neither “yes” nor “no” corresponds to their actual beliefs and concerns. Rather than dismissing a voter because she cannot vow to vote no, we should instead stay in conversation with him/her through Election Day. If, by mid-October, it has become apparent that s/he will not vote no, we should begin encouraging her/him to abstain from voting on this one issue. This has the effect of peeling away “yes” voters from the other side and thus reducing the number of “no” votes required to win.
There is ample precedence for abstention as an informed voting choice in parliamentary and legislative contexts; there is also evidence that voters make this choice by default when they do not feel prepared to vote on a particular issue, or sufficiently invested in it. Abstention should be presented to swing voters as an active, informed political choice.

Her proposal is in the context of efforts to pass gay marriage referenda -- or stop anti-gay marriage referenda from passing -- but the tactic is as relevant in any election.

Perhaps a swing voter doesn't want to vote for a tax proposal, but doesn't want to hold back progress in her community. She isn't against libraries or schools or public transportation (or whatever the tax would go to), but she doesn't want to pay a higher sales or property tax. So in a typical campaign field operation, when a volunteer knocks on her door and asks whether she is going to vote for the tax increase, she would answer 'no' and that would be the last she would ever hear from the pro-side. Instead, the people who answered no should be asked to abstain from voting altogether, because that would make it easier to win for the pro side, but it would also give her an opportunity not to be against libraries or parks or whatever the tax would go to, just as she would not be for the tax increase.

Hey, if President Obama can vote present while in the Illinois Senate (and that's a 100% legitimate procedural vote), then why can't a voter cast the same vote in an election on a particular race?

I like this idea quite a bit.

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