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Red and Blue Conceals Too Much

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When a presidential campaign manager looks out across the American electoral landscape, it is no surprise when he finds a venerable sea of crimson and dark blue denoting what some scholars claim to be the continued political segregation of America — but is it really as simple as that? Understanding and answering this question is at the very core of what a campaign manager must do in any presidential race, for the red-blue map can act as a useful guide, but it can also suggest possibilities for change as its outward appearance masks its true competitive nature. Internally debunking the argument that red and blue states are unmoving electoral monoliths, firmly behind either the Democratic or Republican candidate no matter what, is the first order of a campaign manager’s business, as falling into the trap of reliance on patterns can lead directly to disaster. Also identifying the causes of sometimes unexpected electoral change — in this case, population migration and the emergence of new voting groups — can aid in political strategizing, allowing the campaign manager to forsee and capitalize on new voting patterns.

It would be simple for a campaign manager to declare traditionally Republican (red) or Democratic (blue) states as locked for his candidate simply by looking at historical voting patterns and voter rolls, but doing so would leave the campaign open to unexpected changes that could radically and negatively affect the candidate’s viability. The United States is actually much less partisan and politically/socially segregated than the red-blue map suggests, leaving change from established norms quite possible. If political segregation was indeed on the rise and strengthening in partisanship, then candidates would actually run toward the opposite poles of the political spectrum instead of attempting to meet in the middle — Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan would have been the two primary contenders in 2000 if the proponents of political segregation were correct in their assumptions. Focusing on so-called “battleground” states, or states where a traditional voting patterns may mean little, is a sound policy, especially in a logistical sense — it is much easier to attempt winning a handful of states than dozens — but it ignores emerging changes in states that are considered decidedly Republican or Democratic, as 2000 proved. Arkansas, West Virginia and Missouri in 2000 broke from their traditional Democratic voting norms and sided with Bush. Had Al Gore won any of those three states he would have won the election. West Virginia, for instance, with its union ties and five electoral votes had voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1980, yet 2000 was different. 2000 proved that every electoral vote counts, and with a system that is not as red and blue as it appears, a presidential candidate must look past the color code to see the pitfalls and opportunities that lie within.

Chances for change exist within states that have traditionally voted one way or the other, even if political segregation theorists claim the reverse. Population migration is one aspect that underscores shifting electoral forces, as people who move may do so based upon job opportunities and not upon the new area’s political alignment. In effect, migration tends to increase the ideological pool within communities and make them more competitive in presidential elections. Minorities are highly important when it comes to vote change in communities, as well. The continued influx of Hispanics may be one reason why Florida became competitive in 2000 and continues to be so in 2004. Those who believe in continuing political segregation are convinced the red-blue map paints a picture of coastal bastions of liberal thought ruled by minorities and rural strong-holds of conservatism occupied primarily by whites, but the country is actually becoming more racially homogenous everywhere. According to a Brookings Institute census analysis, a massive minority influx to American cities along with smaller towns in such traditionally “red” states as Texas is occurring and possibly setting the stage for some potentially crucial electoral shifts. Also, the emergence of new groups dictated by issues, such as gays against a gay marriage ban and youth worried over the Iraq issue, could affect turnout in certain supposedly locked states, causing surprising outcomes. A campaign manager, whether Republican or Democrat, must be able to identify these electoral wildcards in all their forms while planning strategic moves. Ignoring an emerging or strengthening group in supposedly uncompetitive states could be highly dangerous especially in tight races.

America is not simply red and blue, it is much more complex than that. States that traditionally vote for one party’s candidate can suddenly vote for the other’s, as states such as West Virginia and Tennessee proved in 2000. Population migration and emerging groups can signal re-alignment in routinely uncompetitive states, and it is up to the campaign manager to identify and act on such re-alignment in order to benefit or defend against it, depending on the situation. After all, a presidential candidate fights to represent all of America and not just those states that correspond to his party’s color. Focusing as much as possible on the entire electorate in order to understand and anticipate future constituents’ worries and needs is exactly what a highly capable campaign manager should do.

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About Justin Delabar