Howard Dean Tells Democrats a New Day Is Coming in 2008
By MIKE SECCOMBE
It's scary what political parties know about you. Even Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee concedes that, although he relishes it too.
"We can tell you what magazines you read, what DVDs you watch, which restaurants you go to and what credit cards you use, et cetera, et cetera," he told a crowd gathered for a fundraiser at the East Chop home of Connie Borde last Thursday.
"And using that information, we can predict with 85 per cent accuracy, how you'll vote."
Governor Dean joked that the level of party knowledge about American voters was even more scary than what's going on at the National Security Agency, but, well, in a political war, like any other, you use whatever weapons are available.
And his party is only playing catch up in its collation of material stored on commercial databases with what the Republicans had achieved years earlier.
Governor Dean's visit to the Island was lower key and lower cost than the visits of the four Presidential candidates this political summer - entry was just $50 and about 200 people showed up - but for those interested in the process of campaigning, rather than the personalities of the campaigners, it may certainly prove the most interesting.
What he provided were the structural reasons for his belief that the Democrats - so recently on the ropes in campaigning terms - will not only win big next year, but will go on winning into the future.
First is the party's use of data. He reckoned his party caught up with their opponents only this year. But he had forced other changes too, he said, since taking over the national committee in 2005, like ensuring coordinated national campaigning. The Democrats, he said, are no longer a party where the nominee runs things and the party does not.
The former arrangement, he said "meant we were in the field one year out of four, whereas the Republicans, who ran a grass roots campaign, were in the field four years out of four for 30 years in a row."
He spoke about his 50-state strategy, focusing on ensuring the party did not any longer have a real, working presence in only 25 of 50 states.
As he put it: "It's pretty hard to get folks to vote for a Democrat if they're afraid to admit they're a Democrat, in Mississippi and Alabama and Utah . . ."
A study by Professor Elaine Kamarck of the Kennedy School at Harvard, who also spoke at the meeting, showed such local grassroots organization added about 4.5 per cent to the vote, on average.
Then there was the matter of voting irregularities, in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere which had cost the party in the past.
Now, he said, the party has identified the areas where such things are likely to happen and has what he called a voter protection unit, including some 7,000 volunteer lawyers, all trained in the nuances of local election law.
"Doing this prospective study of every single polling place in America, a year before the election starts is groundbreaking, for us to know where the problems are going to be," he said.
They can get a lawyer to any problem in 15 minutes, he claimed.
Governor Dean talked about advertising strategies and the need to remove incompetent and partisan electoral officials, and other changes now in progress.
But the biggest change he detailed and the one which appeared to most enthuse the crowd, was not within the party so much as in the electorate at large. It was demographic and the statistics were startling.
A rising generation of young voters, although they do not often register as Democrats, are voting for the party in rapidly-increasing numbers, he said.
In the 2004 Presidential race, he said, 56 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 29 voted Democrat, and 44 per cent Republican. It was the only age group John Kerry won.
In the 2006 mid-term elections, the Democrat advantage among that group increased to 61-39.
And while younger voters had often been considered apathetic in the past, the number turning out to vote is rising fast. In 2004, 18-29 year-old voters increased their turnout across the board by 20 per cent. In 2006, the turnout went up another 20 per cent.
Even more spectacular was the rise in turnout among young non-white voters.
"If you were white and under 30, your turnout went up eight per cent. If you were African-American, your turnout went up 15 per cent. If you were Hispanic, it went up 23 per cent," Mr. Dean said.
"Fifty-three per cent of all young people turned out, whether white black or brown."
The racial divide in voting patterns is disappearing in the rising generation, he said.
"The under thirties see themselves as a new generation - not necessarily as a new African American or Hispanic or Asian American or native American generation, but as a new generation, taking over.
"And they vote with us."
But he also admitted they expressed their views in a different, less overtly confrontational way than previous generations of politicized young people, such as in the 1960s.
"They don't launch 800,000 people on the street in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They send 800,000 e-mails and tie up congress for weeks. And they expect us to set aside our differences and accomplish something," Mr. Dean said.
He said the change is even becoming apparent among members of the Christian evangelical community, whose young people were "tired of going to church on Sunday and coming out feeling bad or hateful or angry towards something."
Instead of being concerned only with traditional evangelical issues like abortion and gay marriage, Governor Dean said, "they want to know what are we going to do about Darfur, the environment, poverty - things that actually appear in the Bible."
He added: "In the last election we went from 19 to 29 per cent of our vote among evangelicals."
These demographic changes make it more urgent that the party concentrate its get-out-the vote efforts among young people, not just for the coming election, but for the future, he said.
"For if you vote for one party three times in a row, you're likely to do it for the rest of your life," he said.