- Even when there's a third-party candidate, such as Perot or Nader, the Democratic percentage of the popular vote has never dipped below 40% since 1940 (apart from 37% for McGovern in 1972).
- At the same time, the Republican percentage of the popular vote has never dipped below 40% either (apart from 38% for Goldwater in 1964 and 37% for Bush senior in 1992).
- So you can count on at least 80% of the voting population being either hardline conservatives or knee-jerk liberals, at least in their unwavering support of their party's nominee, whoever he is.
- But, mathematically, neither group alone is big enough to win a two-party election. And even when Bill Clinton was in a three-way with both the insurgent Ross Perot and the incumbent President Bush in 1992, he still got 43% of the popular vote.
- So it's the remainder, that shifting middle 20% of party-switchers and independents, who effectively tip the election to the left or right. And with the Electoral College system, that slight tip can become an almighty crash. Ask Al Gore.
- Now, given that Obama is -- so far -- the unchallenged Democratic candidate, let's look at the Republicans (if we must). Roughly one-third of all self-identified Republicans actually turn out to vote in the primaries. That's only about 8% of the voting-age population.
- We can't assume that these active, primary-voting Republicans are also the most conservative. (Nor can we assume they're representative of Republicans in general.) But it's clear that any Republican candidate who can put together a platform that appeals to, say, just 5% of US voters can secure the presidential nomination. Not exactly a ringing endorsement on the national stage.
Rick Santorum is clearly hoping that his 5% are sitting at that far end of the spectrum, at least in terms of sexual, reproductive, and gender politics.
But getting the nomination is one thing. Winning the presidency is quite different.
As you can see, a candidate's target audience before the nomination-- the non-apathetic party faithful -- is quite different from his (and I truly wish I could add "or her") audience after the nomination: the thoughtful, persuadable middle ground. Sure, by just getting on the ticket, they automatically pass Go and collect their 40% of party-line voters. (I'm one, on the grounds that I'd sooner marry a Kardashian than ever vote Republican; however, since I only became a citizen in 2005, that's been one no-brainer presidential vote for Obama.)
But that won't get them elected. So we get to witness that amazing shift after the conventions, when the chosen candidates "reach out" into the no man's land of the central undecided, suddenly softening their extreme messages and singing hymns of praise to compromise and bipartisanship. Some of them mean it. Some of them (Dubya) don't (Dubya).
Mitt Romney can clearly do this. Heck, he's already done it, no matter how hard he tries to cover up his record.
But suppose Santorum prevails? How on earth is he going to equivocate to make his ludicrous conservative, counter-sexual-revolutionary, homophobic platform in any way acceptable to the -- by definition -- average American? Who now, according to the latest polls (I checked!) favors gay marriage, overwhelmingly practices contraception, and is marginally pro-choice.
Can we take heart, therefore, from the fact that Rick seems unelectable? The 52% of voters who were born with a uterus should guarantee this. But remember, the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't defeated by the all-boys club in Congress. It was brought down by one (well-funded) conservative Catholic woman.
It's getting interesting . . .