Two Political Campaign Strategies

This article quickly discusses two political campaign strategies based on crossover likelihood.

Quick definitions on strategy and tactics, two words which are tossed around in politics all the time and rarely defined or correctly used:

  • A strategy is a theoretically-backed general plan to accomplish some goal.
  • Tactics are the actual tasks done to implement the strategy.

Two general strategies, or elements of a more complex strategy anyway, can be derived based on the “crossover likelihood” of a population.

Crossover is when a Democrat votes for a Republican or vice versa. When a person is labeled as a Democrat or Republican it is called Party ID or Party Affiliation. Party ID can be self-professed, based on voter turnout, or based on registration. Registration is the most accurate at the person level, turnout can be more useful in election modelling, and self-professed is easy to get but biased. When people self-profess they tend to claim Independent even when they almost always vote for a certain party.

We can measure crossover and use the actual, historical crossover to come up with a predicted or expected crossover likelihood. Here is the part where we go from data through theory to strategy:

  • If Republicans crossover to Democrats at higher rates than Democrats crossover to Republicans, a Republican will benefit from an Excite-Suppress Strategy.
  • If Republicans crossover to Democrats at a lower rate than Democrats crossover to Republicans, a Republican will benefit from a Turnout-Swing Strategy.

Excite-Supress means we cater to our base and attack our opponents. This will reduce opposition turnout and increase base support. We do this because using resources to obtain crossover is relatively less effective ceteris paribus under these conditions. This scenario is usually but not always improved with lower turnout, in particular for Republicans. Just make sure it’s your opponent’s base that’s not turning out. We want our base to turnout in full force of course.

Turnout-Swing means we take a more moderate stance and we seek high voter turnout and put resources into tactics which will drive crossover. This is not to say we should ever alienate our base. It doesn’t really mean we are less aggressive at attacking our opponent per se either, but we need to be careful not to alienate the opposition base or they wont crossover for us. So get personal. Attack the opponent, not his party or group in this case. Also, we should really drive turnout in this case.

The essential point is that a dollar spent can either work to excite your already convinced base, or convince unconvinced voters. If crossover toward your party is relatively low, it is better to encourage your own base than to waste money convincing the other party to crossover. If crossover toward your party is relatively high, it becomes a relatively better investment to try and play the center with a big-tent and more independent or moderate stance, trying to swing voters rather than excite your own base.

In reality these are all empirical questions which can be better answered through extensive polling, but the tradeoff of playing to your base versus playing toward the middle is an important messaging question which should be considered. Also, even if crossover is high it’s not actually a good idea to turnout your opponent’s base. It’s more about moderates, independents, leaners, etc.

We also saw the Turnout-Crossover Strategy used in an open Republican Primary in Mississippi recently, which was interesting because usually this sort of technique is not used in Primaries but obviously it can be.


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