Voting Alone: In Red-State America, Politics Is Much More Deeply Integrated into Other Aspects of People's Daily Lives

Article excerpt

ALAN BRINKLEY HAS DONE AN ADMIRABLE JOB THINKING through why George W. Bush won. I particularly agree with his analysis of the damaged state of the Democratic Party's infrastructure and aim here to deepen our understanding of what needs fixing.

Let me start with myself as one type of Kerry supporter to illustrate the problem. I'm not proud of it, but my husband and I spend most of our waking hours working, leaving little time for any associational life. Free time is reserved for our two teenage children. We participate in no organized religion, belong to few organizations outside of professional ones, and barely sustain ties to the town we live in. Our political activism mostly involves writing checks to liberal groups; our community consists of friends, co-workers, and family. We are charter members of Robert Putnam's "bowling alone" crowd.

Looking back at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's landslide victory of 1936, made possible by the entrance of new first--and second-generation immigrant and black voters into the New Deal coalition, what is most striking is the critical role played by face to face recruitment, whether by fledgling Congress of Industrial Organizations unions or new offshoots of long-established ethnic associations (Polish Democratic Clubs or Italian Democratic Leagues). Even the Republican mobilization of 1964 for Barry Goldwater was noteworthy not only for giving birth to such techniques of "retail politics" as direct mail but also for its grass-roots base. Middle-class southern Californians, for example, had painstakingly built a conservative movement through interacting at coffee klatches and barbecues in their suburban tract developments, on local anticommunism committees, and in their proliferating churches.

The revolution in political campaigning that Richard Viguerie launched in 1964 with direct mail has undeniably reshaped both parties over the last four decades. Democrats and Republicans have both embraced "slice-and-dice" politics, reaching out to voters as members of market segments with distinctive interests. And ironically, the Democrats, with their base in the urban and suburban milieus, have become more dependent on this retail politics than the Republicans, whose core red-state supporters remain involved in face-to-face organizations.

The historic Republican discovery in this election season was that all the sophisticated segmented marketing mattered less than face to face interaction with real members of a community. As an organizer of Catholics for Bush in Columbus, Ohio, put it, "The grass-roots effort did not exist in 2000. We tend to think grass roots is less sexy, but it does the job."

In other words, it may be less significant that Republican voters have a corner on religious faith and "moral values" than simply that they go to church. …