To some in Chicago, the western suburbs, including DuPage County, seems so far away it might as well be in Iowa. DuPage voters, however, aren’t the same as Iowans – and there is a lesson there.
In the 6th Congressional Democratic Primary Tammy Duckworth is flooding the mailboxes with direct mail, likely has precinct walkers for her “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts and, according to one source, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who backs her candidacy, has been polling recently – and certainly they have throughout the campaign. I recently mentioned some of Lindy Scott’s efforts – and Christine Cegelis’ efforts, and the number of activists Christine has brought to bear, have been noted by the press. I don’t know, however, if it’s working. As I recently mentioned on my blog re: Scott, I think there are a number of variable for him (GOTV-wise) and I would speculate that the same might well be true for Duckworth – among those she’s convinced (whatever their numbers) – how many are sufficiently motivated to vote in a primary. Ditto Cegelis.
This isn’t me being coy – it’s imparting a lesson of sorts I learned in the recent North Aurora election for village president (I canvassed with a small Democracy for America group a couple times for Democrat Mark Guethle). Mark ran the campaign like a presidential for Iowa (coding voters, multiple visits, the candidate personally knocking on every door and meeting almost every voter, etc.) but the vote totals in the end of what was a negative campaign made clear that many supposed preferences, either way, never made it to the polls. You might think about it as the ‘telemarketing effect’ – that is, you’ll say anything (short of actually buying) to get rid of them. You also might consider the anecdotal evidence of Christopher Hayes – who wrote an extremely thought-provoking article on the Kerry 2004 effort in Wisconsin. To summarize:
“For those who follow politics, there are few things more mysterious, more inscrutable, more maddening than the mind of the undecided voter. In this year’s election, when the choice was so stark and the differences between the candidates were so obvious, how could any halfway intelligent human remain undecided for long? ‘These people,’ Jonah Goldberg once wrote of undecided voters, on a rare occasion when he probably spoke for the entire political class, ‘can’t make up their minds, in all likelihood, because either they don’t care or they don’t know anything.’
And that was more or less how I felt before I decided to spend the last seven weeks of the campaign talking to swing voters in Wisconsin….
The mere fact that you’re reading this article right now suggests that you not only think politics is important, but you actually like it. You read the paper and listen to political radio and talk about politics at parties. In other words, you view politics the way a lot of people view cooking or sports or opera: as a hobby. Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I’ll never do it before every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.”
While primary voters are, almost by definition, more politically attuned – that doesn’t mean they’re reading political blogs daily, or weekly, or even annually. They may or may not glance at a newspaper headline from time to time – and they may know the timing of the sports or weather on newscasts to maximize their viewing preferences.
The Democratic (and to a somewhat lesser extent Republican) voters in the 6th Congressional District aren’t used to frequent primary elections of tremendous consequence – the recent election of Senator Obama noted – and they may be more prone to fatigue down-ballot.
I can’t tell you how much is enough, or too much, for canvassing, direct mail and other efforts – it requires a level of engagement and information I personally don’t have for the 6th congressional. If you’re going to err at this point it well might make more sense to err on the side of reaching everyone, instead of missing voters. But campaigns would do well to remember that Illinois voters don’t have the same traditions as Iowa – and more can yield less in that farm state too.