I sent the letter below to Nick Confessore of Tapped in response to this piece.
One thing I neglected to say in the letter is that the “new-voter”/”swing-voter” strategies are not mutually exclusive. It should be possible to do some of both, and what we’re really talking about here is the mix. The reason that Dean’s “new-voter” strategy seems extreme is that during the period during which we’ve lost control of Congress. the Democratic emphasis has been almost entirely on swing voters.
One reason talking about getting new voters has never brought forth any results is that since 1984 or so (DLC takeover) this strategy has not actually been tried. “Party-building” soft money was deliberately diverted into big media buys with only immediate effects and no long-term gain, and the swing-voter strategy has been the only one in effect.
Per voter won, the swing-voter strategy is more effective, but there are more non-voters (~50%) than swing voters (
From my point of view but not yours, the rightward pull of this strategy is bad. However, if it is true (as I suspect) that the lame Dem pros and the right-wing New Republic types (Sullivan and Krauthammer still work there, right?) would actually prefer to lose with a right-center swing-voter strategy than to win with a left-center new-voter strategy, then I think that even the mad-dog-moderate Matt Yglesias might come around to my point of view.
Some of the bad advice Gore got in 2000, in my paranoid opinion, came from people who would rather lose than win the wrong way. I think that Gore might agree with me by now.
The working poor are one group which tends not to vote, and they’re a natural Dem constituency. Yeah, they’re hard to organize, but they said that about labor in the old days too (ethnically fragmented, semiliterate, poor, embattled, unstable, etc.) Young, poor, alternative-culture cynics are another such difficult group, and in fact the groups tend to merge in later years (e.g. restaurant workers). I don’t think that failure can be declared before the strategy is tried. It would indeed be a big job, but we’ve been losing with the other strategy. I doubt that it’s ever possible to tell in advance whether something genuinely new will work; my guess is that poll-driven caution will normally tie you to an unventuresome policy leading to continuous gradual decline.