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Politics by the base and politics by association

Politics in Iowa Web (1)

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

In his new book, Bases Loaded, elections and campaigns expert, Costas Panagopoulos of Northeastern University, argues that presidential elections are essentially about “mobilizing the base.” Campaigns are not about persuading voters but rather mobilizing that group of voters who are known to be supportive of a particular candidate. This fits with the abundance of evidence showing just how difficult it is to “persuade” voters (discussed previously in this blog).

As this election cycle has made clear, campaigns are also about politics by association.

Consider the ads surrounding two of the congressional races in Iowa. Outside groups seem to be competing over how frequently and how intensely each side can associate their opponent with the most polarizing figures in American politics today.

For example, Senator Ernst is featured negatively alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump, while her opponent, Theresa Greenfield, is cast as part of the “radical left” and shown alongside Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. At the same time, Congresswoman Finkenauer is portrayed as being in lockstep (in a negative way) with Speaker Pelosi.

The practice of politics by association is certainly not new. However, given the intense polarization within the electorate, as well as the tendency of campaigns to focus on their base, there is little reason to expect anything positive these last three weeks.

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