Turnout, Mobilization and Voter Suppression

Next election time, if you want to sound like a pundit, tell everyone that, when it comes to predicting who will win, “It depends on turnout.” Whatever the contest looks like, who wins depends on who actually turns out to vote.

In 1948, one reason pollsters ended up being so wrong is because a lot of voters simply didn’t show up. Thomas Dewey, a bland candidate, thus did not defeat Harry Truman.

Nearly sixty years later, George W. Bush won Ohio and retained the presidency amidst high turnout. In the Buckeye State, strategist Karl Rove developed an intensive effort with grassroots volunteers, advertisements and candidate visits — elements of the normal historical role of political parties that were executed extremely well. A referendum defining marriage was strategically timed to encourage high numbers of conservatives to vote.

But turnout is not just an outgrowth of mobilizing activities. Parties and candidates may also try to limit who votes. Over many decades of southern one-party politics, Democrats implemented many schemes to limit voting to whites. In Ohio in 2004, the efforts to bring voters to the polls were coupled with sinister practices, as Republican election officials put more voting machines in areas supported by their party and far fewer in urban, Democratic areas. Voters in Cleveland and university communities faced long lines and long waits, making it difficult or impossible for those who had to pick up their children or get to work to vote. And these largely Democratic voters faced a concerted effort to challenge their voting credentials.

Read the rest at the Bangor Daily News.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.