Transcription – Daron Shaw Interview

Q:              Daron, do we have time for two more questions?

SHAW:       Sure.

Q:              One is about ’04, and that is were there down ballot races or ballot measures, like for example, a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Ohio, or were there popular candidate, Republican candidates for, you know, governor, or senator, say, where actually the presidential campaign is thinking, we might be able to piggyback on something [01:18:00] that’s already happening in that state to our advantage?

SHAW:       Right.  I think the — this is my recollection.  There may have been some candidates that Bush wanted to tie himself to, but Bush was such an overriding feature of that election that, you know, he would overwhelm or overshadow any more localized thing.  There was a sense that we would take advantage of popular Republicans and use them as surrogates, which is standard.  But, I remember when Bush was sort of absent from Ohio for a couple of weeks, that John McCain had campaigned in Ohio, that Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at that point was still very popular, had campaigned as a surrogate in Ohio.  So there was a reliance on other kind of prominent Republicans to carry a little bit of the load.

Now with the defense of marriage acts that were popping up all over the place, I don’t know how strategic those things were.  I don’t know whether there was anything on the White House that, yeah, we should sponsor these things, and that they will help us. [01:19:00] I certainly wasn’t privy to any conversations of that sort.  Did those things actually help Bush?  There’s some mixed evidence in political science on that.  You know, I’m not sure how much of the mobilization of Bush supporters in southern Ohio, or in the Panhandle in Florida was a function of outreach versus message.  I tend to think it was more outreach, and maybe I’m naïve on that.  But, I think it was the personal contacting, and the personal contacting coming from people who were actually known to the subject, so there was a real effort to get neighbor-to-neighbor contacting, to get neighborhood association leaders and community leaders and opinion leaders to actually do the person-to-person contacting.  So I’m somewhat of the opinion that it was the mode of contact and the scope of outreach, as opposed to the message.  But was it possible that, you know, it was the defense of marriage act that — [01:20:00] as a message that really motivated a lot of those people, and that worth a point in Ohio, or a point in Florida?  Yeah, I think it’s absolutely possible.  I haven’t seen a lot of strong evidence on that.

It’s funny, fast-forward to 2010, and what we were finding in states, like California for instance, is that young people were showing up not to vote in the Senate or the gubernatorial election, but they were showing up to vote on the pot initiatives.  I actually think that the possibility that younger voters will come to the polls to vote on marijuana initiatives is greater than the possibility that the social conservatives showed up to vote purely on the defense of marriage acts, right?  What’s the phrase, you know, “Up with dope, vote for hope?”  That was our proposed slogan for the Democrats in 2010.  (laughter)

Q:              Well, your comment about person-to-person contact brings me to my last question.  Your book was published in 2006, but [01:21:00] one of the observations you make by way of a prediction is that, traditional television saturation campaigning is likely to decline in importance relative to person-to-person contacts with a purpose of mobilization of voters who are — to actually turn out and vote.  They’ve already made up their mind, they’re for you, but it’s getting them to vote.  Has that been born out by the election since then?

SHAW:       I think there’s a very real sense amongst political scientists and practitioners that person-to-person contacting is ironically the wave of the future.  You know, in some sense, my thought was that the scholarship that we all as political scientists grew up on, the Columbia studies of the forties and fifties, and how information networks and [01:22:00] social connections would drive the communication of political ideas and ideology in elections, that was sort of part and parcel of how we learned that politics worked.  And then of course, in the fifties and sixties and seventies with the rise and the absolute ascendance of television as a means of political communication, everybody in the Academy focused on TV, TV effects, how do ads work, and how do they persuade voters or not persuade voters, and does negative advertising de-mobilize voters?

It struck me in 2000 — and a lot of people in the Bush campaign I know share this view — that the field operation the Gore people put into place was what won him the popular vote, that it was worth a couple of points.  Maybe not two, but it was worth a point, certainly.  And it was enough to put him over the top in terms of the national vote, and I think it caught the Republicans absolutely off-guard.  And in some ways it shouldn’t have, because labor had begun re-investing in person-to-person contacting after 1996.  You know, they got tired of just raising money for TV [01:23:00] and decided to do what labor does traditionally, knock on doors and get the message out.  And I think that helped Clinton not lose seats in ’98 after impeachment.  And I think it got Gore over the top, at least, popular vote-wise in 2000.  And it was the impetus behind the Republican 72-hour plan in 2004, this reemphasis on person-to-person door-knocking contacts.  I think 2004 re-affirmed everybody’s belief that this was kind of politics that needed — that had enormous potential, that if the resources were there to commit to it, it would be ridiculous not to engage in this, and that coupled with smarter targeting, better voter lists, smart phones and social media, I think have all come together in a way that I — you know, certainly didn’t guess the particulars of this, but have come together in a way that’s really reinvigorated the kind of face-to-face personalized contacting that used to be the core of American politics. [01:24:00] So we’ve gone back from, you know, sort of broadcast wholesale politics to retail politics.  And I actually am very optimistic — I think that’s good for the system.  There are some people who are cynical about, you know, the nature of the contacting, and you know, the lists that are out there, identifying personal preferences and things like that, and I understand those concerns.  But what we’ve found consistently is that credibility of source matters, localized sources matter, so you know, if you could get somebody from the community to go out and spread the word for the candidate, that’s effective.  And I think that’s something that ought to make us more optimistic.  I think that’s a good thing for American politics.

And the flip side of course is movement away.  Now, no one’s actually moved away from television.  The money’s even more than it was back in ’00 and ’04.  But I think there is a sense — and I’ll be interested to see if a candidate has the guts to do this in the future — [01:25:00] that we’re piling on, with respect to TV commercials, that we’re spending, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars now in presidential campaigns, let alone Senate and governors’ campaigns, for advertising that’s probably not all that effective.  And I remember Matt Dowd told me, and I think it was in 2000, he said, at some point a candidate’s going to lay down a base of about 1200 or 1800 points in a market, and they’re just going to take the rest of that money, and use that on face-to-face contacting.  And I thought that was a smart observation at the time, and I think we may actually see a presidential campaign that does that at some point.  You know, just a kind of a minimum level of advertising to be president, and let’s take that money and invest that in more innovative, localized, personalized outreach.  And, we may be there in the next couple of election cycles.

Q:              Back to the future.

SHAW:       Yeah.  (laughter)  I know.

Q:              Well, thank you, Professor Shaw.  This has been very helpful.

SHAW:       Oh, it’s my pleasure, my pleasure.  Thank you.  All right.

Daron Shaw Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 10 March 2014, accessed at

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