SUPPRESSION? DEPRESSION? WHATEVER YOU CALL IT … CAMPAIGNS BETTER BE PREPARED
This week Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus sent out a blast email warning GOP voters of an organized Democratic effort to suppress their participation in the upcoming midterm elections. Dubbed the “GOP haircut,” Priebus is referring to a September 10 memo prepared by Democratic strategist Chris Lehane in which tactics for depressing Republican voter enthusiasm in Florida, Iowa and Michigan are discussed.
“It’s the liberals’ desperate attempt to trim Republican turnout at the polls – to ‘degrade Republican performance’ by ‘dampening Republican enthusiasm levels,'” Priebus wrote of the memo. “By spreading misinformation about Republican candidates, the liberals hope to divide our Party in a last-ditch attempt to save theirs – and to force their far-left agenda on America.”
Lehane’s memo – chronicled by reporter Dave Weigel, among others – is a fascinating look at the emerging field of “electoral depression,” or the science associated with discouraging certain segments of the electorate from showing up at the polls.
Of particular interest is Lehane’s focus on the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli – a race that has been the subject of extensive research by the Market Research Foundation (MRF).
“Republican turnout in the Tri-County (Virginia) area was impacted as the result of revelations about the Republican nominee’s support for an out-of-state energy company over local landowners – while the Republican vote over-performed throughout Virginia in 2013, the notable exception was the Tri-Counties, which underperformed by approximately 11,000 votes,” Lehane wrote in his memo.
MRF identified this suppression effort – and discussed how the GOP could have more effectively responded to it – months ago.
“More aggressive efforts should have been initiated to counteract the overt suppression tactics of the Democrats,” MRF’s 2013 Virginia turnout report revealed. “For example, attacks in the coal counties on support by Consul Energy for the GOP ticket needed to be addressed in a more assertive action, by local supporters, not by press statements.”
MRF’s research has gone much deeper than that, though. In addition to addressing the Democrats’ effective regional “depression” efforts, our reports have also documented the GOP’s inability to play the same game – i.e. its failure to engage locally on exploitable issues that could have had a similar net negative effect on Democratic turnout (as a separate MRF report has revealed).
Most importantly, our research also documented how the GOP defeat in Virginia last year wasn’t merely due to stagnant vote totals in certain regions, but rather a larger failure to generate the level of vote growth needed across-the-board.
“GOP turnout was depressed throughout the state,” our turnout analysis noted. “In those counties and cities dominated by the GOP where overall turnout increased by more than 2 percent over 2009, the GOP ticket garnered less net votes than in 2009. And, in 38 GOP dominate jurisdictions, turnout was essentially unchanged from 2013 to 2009, resulting in lower net gains.”
“It is no overstatement to say the GOP campaign left the victory (on) the table,” the report concluded.
This is not to say the same thing will happen in Florida, Iowa, Michigan – or other states – this year. It is simply a reminder of the importance of not only identifying where one’s likely or persuadable voters are – but where (and how) they are being targeted, as well.