The Politics of Inertia

The other day I wrote about one of my standard rules in politics, what I call the Politics of Inertia: voters at rest tend to stay at rest, or more aptly, uninvolved voters tend to stay uninvolved. Several friends and acquaintances have challenged me on this, but I stand by it and know from first hand experience that it is so.

The great story of this campaign season will most likely be the number of newly registered voters who did not actually go vote.

A lot of email has come in about the Republicans’ 72, now 96, hour task force and union involvement. Yes, yes, that is all well and good, but even the email proves my point — the Democrats and Republicans, despite what they say, are focusing their GOTV efforts on their established base and partisans. Inertia is phrased in two ways: objects at rest tend to stay at rest (the uninvolved voters) and objects in motion tend to stay in motion (the involved voters). The caveat to each is that the state of energy stays the same unless some force is applied.

In politics there are two forces, the positive force and the negative force. The positive force is used to stir up the uninvolved voter and stir even more the already involved voter. If you’ve ever tried to push a stalled car out of the road, you have encountered the problem with positive force and stopped objects. It is much easier to apply positive force to an object in motion than to an object not in motion. It is easier to charge up already charged voters than to charge up uninvolved voters. Campaigns, including the Presidential campaigns, will work efficiently and apply positive force to their already active bases rather than apply profound amounts of force to uninvolved voters.

Negative force works in the opposite manner. Negative force applied to a moving object slows it. If you’ve ever pushed a car out of the road, you know that once it gets going fast, it takes a lot more energy to slow it to a stop than if it is barely moving. Negative forces in politics are those activities that tend to turn off the uninvolved voter or the disinterested voter. An appropriately applied amount of negative force will keep an already uninvolved voter from getting involved.

Now, do you need proof? The folks at Commonwealth magazine have conducted a study of campaign movements. While the candidates have been jumping back and forth between thirteen swing states, they have only focused on twenty-nine counties and very few of the counties are the same for each candidate. Why? The campaigns are applying positive forces to stir their bases and get out their vote.

All of this is to say I maintain my theory. The great story of this campaign season will most likely be the number of newly registered voters who did not actually go vote. Sure, a lot of people will be going out to vote, but these voters will be those who are already involved, if only at the fringes. While some newly registered voters will go vote, the largest portion will not. It’s a matter of simply politics and physics.

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Erick Erickson

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