Over the coming days and weeks we’ll be hearing about lots and lots and lots of lessons (many of which will probably be contradictory) that each side should take from the election. Here’s my first stab at one: forget the middle and go for your base. In other words, Rove was right.
If you take a look at how Ds, Rs, and independents voted yesterday (CNN’s website has a handy way of quickly seeing this), in state after state the same pattern emerges: roughly 5-10% of Republicans voted for Kerry, roughly 10-15% of Democrats voted for Bush, and in every state that I looked at, a significant majority of independents voted for Kerry. Bush received the vote of just 40% of independents in PA, 41% of independents in FL, 40% of independents in OH, 45% of independents in WI, and 45% of independents in IA. Even in AZ Bush managed to capture the vote of only 46% of independents.
Yet Bush won most of these states because more Republicans turned out and because Republicans more consistently voted for Bush than Democrats did for Kerry. The lesson? If you lock up your base, you don’t need to worry much about independents. I expect both parties to pay much less attention to independents in coming years.