A Tale of Two Parties

Guest: Bill Bishop, Reporter, Austin American-Statesman Well, after last night, at least now we know how this campaign is going to play out. The Republicans figure this is a turnout election. It’s not about persuasion or argument or anything but juicing up people so that by election day all they can think to do is vote.

That much the commentators seemed to know last night on FoxCNNMSNBCPBS.

But there is a peculiar political geography driving all this that is NOT a part of the national political discussion.

Republicans need to work on turnout because their strongest blocks of support are EXTREMELY dispersed. They are hard to get to. They also live in such strongly Republican regions that turnout might be depressed because of a lack of competitiveness. We’ll have the full story in a week or two in the Austin American-Statesman, but here is a preview.

We are conditioned to believe that Democrats were always the party of the big city and Republicans were always the party of the suburbs and countryside. Not so. In 1976, the average size of a landslide Republican county was significantly larger than the average landslide Democrat county. (Landslide here means one party beat the other by 20 percentage points or more in a head to head count.)

Over the next six elections, however, there was a remarkable change. By 2000, Al Gore had landslide margins in 199 counties. Bush had landslides in nearly 1500 counties. (In all, these counties accounted for nearly half of all voters.)

But Gore’s counties on average, were six times larger than Bush’s counties – and the Democratic counties had two million MORE voters.

There are all sorts of long-term problems facing Republicans. But, short term, they have a turnout issue. Their core voters are spread all over the place, so they are hard to reach and hard to organize on Election Day. They live in homogenous and isolated regions – which can also depress turnout. Rove has been worried about turnout among evangelicals and rural folks for the past four years.

Now they are acting. They want to fire up their people. And, just as important, they want to move more people into the undecided category. (Partisan believers vote; those in the middle vote less.)

No doubt Bush, speaking tonight, will make a pitch more to the suburban voters around Philadelphia – who last night must have thought they had tuned into Inherit the Wind rather than the Republican convention. But that won’t change the geography of how the two parties are, quite literally, based in two different worlds. And it’s those different worlds that are driving Republican strategy right now.