Saturday, November 05, 2005

Who Are the Boxer-Pombo Voters?

Babaloo made a great point at the end of her post about the voter registration in CD-11.  She wrote (emphasis mine):

I've now heard both McNerney and Filson speak; Margee Ensign is apparently poised to enter the race later this month, and I hope to meet her soon. I've heard quite a bit of "Rah-rah, here's why Pombo's bad, here's why I'm great, here's why you should support me." But so far, I haven't heard anyone enunciate a strategy for winning the race. Do any of these candidates have one?

It may be a bit premature for the candidates to start spilling the beans about their strategies, especially to those of us who would turn around and stick it on a blog for everyone to see.  Nonetheless, Babaloo’s comment correctly points to the fact that strategy is going to be hugely important in this race.  

We will have a Democrat running against a Republican incumbent in a red district.  The ultimate Democratic candidate will have less name recognition, less money, and a smaller base.  So before the primary, the candidates need to explain how they will get the votes, not just why they deserves to get the votes.  We shouldn’t lose sight of that distinction.

To be fair, we have seen some preliminary attempts at this type of discussion.  When McNerney talks about having precinct captains in a hundred precincts, he’s burnishing his grassroots credentials, which is essentially a strategic point.  By the same token, Filson has self-consciously added a strategic valence to his moderate or centrist positions (for more on this, see the end of my analysis of Filson’s speech at the San Ramon Democratic Club).

Still, I am very wary about falling into the trap of believing something that sounds good, but which in reality is absurd.  I feel especially leery when considering this race because I realize that I’m in a profound state of ignorance about the district.  I spent about half of my childhood in the outskirts of Sacramento County, so I know a bit about small town, red California.  Still, my childhood experience only serves to make CD-11 less foreign, rather than especially familiar.  Or at least, I haven’t spent enough time in the district to feel confident that I know what it’s like.

So in an effort to educate myself about the district, I have been looking back over previous election results.  I have only had a cursory chance to look at the 2004 numbers, but even a quick look at the results brought out something fairly significant.  Namely, it looks like between 20,000 and 25,000 voters in the part of San Joaquin County that is within CD-11 voted for both Barbara Boxer and Richard Pombo.  Who are these Boxer-Pombo voters, and what explains their voting behavior?  I worry that without a sufficient answer to this question, all the armchair theorizing about strategy in the world will be meaningless.            

I find this question so compelling because I cannot fathom how this voting pattern could be explained in terms of ideology.  After all, what ideology could cause someone to embrace both a) Boxer but not McNerney, and b) Pombo but not Bill Jones?  What’s interesting about this fact is that it seems to place a constraint on the conventional narratives of politics.  Certainly, it immediately problematizes, although it does not invalidate, Filson’s claim of his own electability.  People do not vote for Boxer and Pombo because they are seeking a happy medium between the Left and the Right.

To be honest, right now I’m not too confident about how to explain the Boxer-Pombo voters.  Some of it may simply be the advantages that redound to incumbents, those with high name recognition, and those who spend the most money.  If so, this bodes ill for the Democrats.  

Looking back on the numbers, I realized that Boxer won with a much slimmer margin than I had been told.  Someone told me she got sixty percent of the vote in the district and I even ended up repeating that figure on this blog. In reality Boxer received just a hair above fifty percent.  So if Boxer is the ceiling for a Democrat in the district, which she seems to be, the ceiling lies just the slightest bit above fifty percent.                    

All of this has made me somewhat pessimistic. Almost one third of the people who voted for Boxer also voted for Pombo.  Staring at this fact opens up an abyss of possibilities.  If someone can make Pombo less alluring to these voters, the district is seriously in play.  In that “if” there lies hope.  So much analysis turns upon this one pregnant question: Who are the Boxer-Pombo voters, and what explains their voting behavior?  

I’m not sure if I ought to yearn for, or studiously avoid, enlightenment.  We all make our gritty reality more palatable with a dollop of sweet illusion—our desire to know is always mitigated by our need to believe.  Regardless, next year, whether as a tragic warrior or a conquering hero, I know I’m going to be fighting like hell.  And I know that I’m not going to be alone.  Maybe that thought alone has the sweetness to get me through these heady ruminations.                    



Blogger babaloo said...

Matt –

You say, “I’m not sure if I ought to yearn for, or studiously avoid, enlightenment. We all make our gritty reality more palatable with a dollop of sweet illusion—our desire to know is always mitigated by our need to believe.”

Without our capacity for hope, we’d be… er, Republicans? But we ignore “gritty reality” at our own peril. Here’s a quote from Jerry McNerney’s website about six weeks before last year’s election.

“The Democratic Party of San Joaquin County is growing steadily. Recent news of voter registration results caused considerable excitement as the Democratic Party is rapidly approaching and will soon overtake Republican Registration in the county, maybe even before the election.”

And so we saw the results of blind optimism last year. To me, there’s no question that the more facts we have at hand, the more effective we can be. And that’s the challenge facing us as Democrats, to find a way to meld reality with our capacity for hope.

10:18 AM, November 06, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

Possible reasons for Boxer/Pombo voter differential:

1. Local paper endorsements (pro-Pombo and pro-Boxer).

2. Substantial name recognition of Pombo and Boxer versus their opponents.

3. Maybe Boxer had some issue that resonated with the area or had done some favor there.

4. Maybe Boxer had more mailings or radio/TV ads than the less well-finded Bill Jones.

5. I think also Bill Jones was not a scintillating candidate, sort of dull, and had some baggage. In other words, he may not have been well-liked even among Republicans.

The above list points to a saying about politics, that people vote for the person (or at least the person's persona as portrayed in the media), as much as for the politics.

7:13 PM, November 06, 2005  

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