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There’s been a lot of change over the past decade in the way elections are conducted, from a rise in early voting and absentee voting, to the rescheduling of state primaries immediately after Iowa and New Hampshire in January and February. How might all this affect the outcome in 2008?
In terms of the primaries, the process has become increasingly frontloaded over the last 20 years. This year it’s even more frontloaded. The campaign is going to end very quickly. It will probably be over by February.
As we increase the frontloading of the presidential campaign, it seems to advantage the candidate that already has the largest amount of campaign resources, is the best organized, and has the most ground troops—because you have to get organized in so many places so quickly.
There is a possibility that something unexpected could happen in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the voting population will have very little time to react. Let’s say Hillary Clinton stumbles in Iowa or New Hampshire, and suddenly people are casting around for alternatives. Typically, even in a couple of weeks, a candidate can recover from that: Walter Mondale in 1984 would be the best example.
But there may be so little time now that it’s possible that a dark horse could emerge. I don’t think this will happen, but we never know until it does.
It’s been said that the most committed partisan voters play a pivotal role in the primaries, dominating the debate and driving candidates away from the center; but when it comes to the general election, independents and swing-voters hold sway. Can you explain this?
That’s generally correct. People have this image of “independent” as meaning independently minded, thoughtful, not committed to any kind of partisan leaning. The evidence is that that’s not true. Most independents are disconnected from politics; they don’t pay much attention; they’re less exposed to the media. The reason we can predict elections ahead of time is that the majority of Americans—two-thirds to three-quarters—are committed partisans. When you add things like how the economy is doing, whether we are at war or not, the state of the world, you get a significant number of people—75 percent to 90 percent—where you can really predict how they’re going to vote.
One conclusion might be that the campaign is irrelevant and that we’re wasting $500 million or $600 million—well, that’s wrong. The election is all about the marginals; the battle is really over those people in the middle. Now, where that line gets drawn depends on what kind of year it is. This year, the line is almost certainly somewhere in the Republican camp; that is, the Republicans are going to be spending most of their campaign trying to hold on to their base and push back the Democrats. The Democrats are certainly going to push into the Republican base, at least that would be my prediction. That probably means for liberal Democrats, they’re going to be frustrated at the kinds of things their candidate says. The reason is that their candidate isn’t speaking to liberal Democrats; their candidate is speaking to moderate Republicans, because that’s how they’ll end up winning this election. It is an interesting switchover from the primaries, where you have the partisans, to the general election, where you’re fighting over the moderates.
Doesn’t a candidate need to cover her flank to keep the partisans on board in the general election?
There are circumstances where the committed partisans may not turn out, where they’re frustrated with the nominee. So there are worries among evangelical Republicans that if Rudolph Giuliani is nominated, some evangelicals will stay home, they simply won’t be motivated to turn up because their values don’t line up with Giuliani’s. We’re hearing some rumblings of this from liberals as well—that if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, liberal Democrats will stay home. My expectation is that this will occur to a lesser extent, or not at all, because liberals are so unhappy after eight years of George Bush that they’ll turn out and vote for whatever Democrat gets nominated.
Al Gore recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, and there was speculation that he might run. Can unexpected candidates emerge at the party conventions? Would they have the money and organization to do so?
The money you can raise really fast. Howard Dean showed us that. The difficulty is translating that money into an organization that could actually win the campaign. I think the process is very much stacked against any kind of unannounced candidate emerging.
Let’s say you suddenly do better in Iowa than expected, or you enter the race late, and you’ve got to buy advertising time. There’s only a certain amount of advertising time for sale, and most of it in the early primary states has probably already been bought up. To get a mailing out takes a month. You have to hire staff. You could win a primary and not get any delegates if you don’t have someone committed to going to the convention in your name. All of these things have to happen very, very rapidly, and this work has already been done by the major campaigns. This is what usually stands in the way of a dark horse emerging.
Every four years, a dark horse does emerge, and the eventual nominee overwhelms him with delegate counts. Eventually, the media shifts from speculating about dark horses to focusing on delegate counts. If it’s Hillary Clinton, for example, there will be a point where stories start to come out that say “Hillary Clinton only needs to win one-quarter of the remaining delegates and she will have a majority at the convention.”
It would be interesting—as a political scientist, not as a partisan of either side—to see a Gore-Bloomberg ticket or some sort of major third-party contender coming out, who isn’t, let’s face it, an oddball like Perot, but someone who has a longer record in the political arena. In some respects, Gore would be well-positioned, because he’s actually a centrist. On the war he’s a little bit hawkish; he’s not pro-war or anything, but he’s not going to pull the troops out right away. He’s moderate on economic issues. And he’s got this interesting environmental dimension that, in a way, transcends the current political dimensions. So I think it is a possibility to transcend political boundaries with someone like Gore. This is all pure speculation: Gore’s not going to do it.
Can you think of anyone associated with the Republicans who could run outside the two-party box?
The kind of candidate you typically see emerge on these kinds of issues would be someone very budget-minded, like Warren Rudman, who established a name for himself trying to push for budget sanity during the Reagan and Bush years. Other than that, on the Republican side, it’s honestly hard to see anyone, because the Republican Party has become quite homogenous. Anyone who is a moderate Republican, or has that kind of image, is not a Republican any more. They’re either running as an independent, like Jim Jeffords, or they’ve gone over to the Democratic Party.
And yet the top Republican right now, according to the polls, is Rudy Giuliani, who is quite moderate.
I think the Republicans are desperate. The comparison I use is 1968, when the Republican Party, after the Goldwater campaign, was very much in the wilderness, casting around for any kind of nominee who could win. Richard Nixon emerged; he certainly was not from the Goldwater wing of the party, even though he had the anti-Communist credentials. The reason I think Giuliani is a parallel is that he has the right anti-terrorism credentials, the right foreign policy credentials. Let’s not forget his long experience in the Justice Department and as a district attorney. What he seems to be lacking is his values credentials, the credentials that are expected of a nominee by the Christian right, which is a very important segment of the Republican Party. Republicans are simply desperate for somebody to win, so they’re willing to consider Giuliani because they think he could win.
Why do you think Giuliani is doing so well among Republicans? He’s running as a hawk, yet he’s never dealt with foreign policy as an elected official. Is it simply that he managed New York when it was attacked?
Everything I have read about the Giuliani campaign, and more importantly, the image he has successfully presented to the public, is of a strong, tough leader. His campaign style seems to be straight talk—he interrupts people on the stump, he tells them if they ask a foolish question. It seems to me that his primary campaign theme is that he will kick ass. That appeals to Republicans, and it appeals to a not-insignificant number of Americans who still feel uncertain and fearful about the world.
Any Democrat has to contend with the anti-war left. The most hawkish of the leading candidates would be Hillary Clinton, and she certainly has to worry about the anti-war left. So I think it’s going to be difficult for any Democrat to outflank Giuliani on the hawkishness dimension. I suppose it’s possible for a Republican to emerge—and there are certainly Republicans who are running who have stronger foreign policy credentials than Giuliani—but they’re simply making no headway. For that matter, the Democrat with the strongest foreign policy credentials would be Joe Biden, but he’s making no headway either.
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