Three Myths: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Swing Voter

  • 02/10/2020 2:26 pm ET Brian Frazer
Caucus Count Chaos

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Repeat a myth enough times and many will accept it as fact. Bigfoot has a shoe deal with Nike, the Loch Ness Monster hates being called a monster, and the key to winning every election is the swing voter – people still on the fence about choosing Candidate A or Candidate B. After all, each party already has their army of reliable devotees — it’s the flux of undecideds that will determine the victor. Right? Well, sort of. It depends on what you consider these potential voters are on the fence about. Here’s a clue. It’s not the candidates.

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It’s not a swing; it’s a couch  

Rachel Bitecofer is a 42-year-old professor in Virginia who rocked the polling world when she unwaveringly predicted – five months before the 2018 midterms – that the Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House. She was off by one! The reason she was able to stick with her findings from July: Bitecofer believes that the swing in swing voter is based solely on whether or not the person decides to vote — not who they will choose. In other words, the only thing that voters are changing their minds about is whether they’ll be voting.

Conventional wisdom

In any election, 55% of eligible voters are likely to vote, but it’s been always been assumed that it’s the critical 15% of voters who move between parties that tip the balance of power. Bitecofer thinks that’s nonsense. She had this to say about Iowa:

“It would be one thing if that county had 100,000 people in it who voted in 2012, and then it was the same 100,000 who voted in 2016, but that is not what is happening.”

The Chuck Todd theory of American Politics

Bitecofer – who has more bravado than most forecasters – thinks the media gives way too much credit to voters. She calls it “The Chuck Todd theory.” Spoiler alert: Chuck probably isn’t going to be flattered after hearing Rachel’s explanation.  

“The idea that there is this informed, engaged American population that is watching these political events and watching their elected leaders and assessing their behavior and making a judgment… is just not true.”

What you can do (Part 1)

If you’re reading this and you know of a “swing voter,” it’s your job to get them out of the house on Election Day. If you’re reading this and YOU’RE a “swing voter” – well, make sure you have “Vote” on your calendar. Oh, and here’s a calendar.

Flickr: Ken Duffy

The tipping point wasn’t Trump

According to Bitecofer, it was the Tea Party that changed everything. The wave of conservatism in 2010 made no sense. In 2008 — courtesy of the GOP — America was headed towards a deep recession and our economy was on life-support. Then, thanks to a Democratic president, Democratic House, and Democratic Senate, the economy recovered. But the Democrats didn’t, losing 63 seats!

Botton Line: Swing Low

The actual percentage of swing voters is significantly lower than the 15-20% that most analysts preach. Bitecofer thinks it’s less than half of that – closer to 6-7%.

Negative Partisanship

Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, says that “negative partisanship” is the key to decision-making. Voters are more concerned with winning than by any specifics that their candidate has to offer. So a 600-page plan on how to restructure our health care system is ultimately less important than whether “the other guy” is a jerk.

Unsplash: Elements5Digital

Positive news

Most pundits believe that Trump triumphed because of a collection of disgruntled blue-collar Democrats in the Midwest who jumped ship. Bitecofer is adamant it wasn’t. She maintains it was the 6% of Midwest third-party voters who were both anti-Hillary and anti-Trump. The good news is that she believes Democrats can re-attract these voters, provided they’re given a reason. Any reason. Please give them a reason. Please.

Key Quotes
“The pool of who shows up changes.”

“The idea that turnout explains every election result, I am sorry, but that is just factually not true.”

“Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.”

“Republicans might not love the president, but they absolutely loathe his Democratic adversaries.”

What can you do? (Part 2)

Help register people to vote, via phone banking, door knocking, postcard writing, or reminding friends. And don’t forget about yourself!

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