The Long Tail of Politics
Is there an opposite of nostalgia (and by nostalgia I mean its etymological root meaning of homesickness)? I woke up this morning with what I can only describe as post-peripatetic depression. Okay, I could probably think of a better term, but for the last two months, I've had "somewhere to go" even when I was in the same location for a week or two. The prospect of laundry, groceries, undoing the mess I left in my apartment, or even removing the dust from that mess fills me with the will-to-nap.
The blog it eyes me suspiciously, as I owe it rundowns of both days of the conference as well as the final stats on my trip, but it will have to wait. I'll probably predate and put them up in the next day or two.
I stopped by campus yesterday for a faculty meeting on revising some of our grad program policies--figuring that, since I'll be taking it over in the spring, I should keep abreast of exactly what I'll be taking over. Afterwards, I stopped by Steve Parks's office. Steve is in his first year here at SU, having been hired away from Temple, and he's started a blog that more than a few of you will be interested in: it's progressiveteachers.org. Right now, it's basically Steve's blog, but he's hoping to build it up into something a little more collective. Take a look, add it to your 'rolls, etc. And be sure to welcome Steve, who's new to all of this.
Steve and I had a nice chat yesterday about all sorts of stuff, but I wanted to jot down a few notes here about something that first occurred to me during Convergences and which I repeated during that chat yesterday. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a couple of entries about Chris Anderson's WIRED article on the long tail (although somewhat obliquely in the third entry). In the meantime, I've been thinking about it some. Here's one of the illustrations to Anderson's article:
The x-axis represents individual titles and the y-axis sales figures. One of Anderson's points is that the next generation of resellers (Amazon, Netflix, Rhapsody, et al) is not constrained by physical scarcity, like shelf space, and can thus afford to set their threshholds much further down the curve, making less popular works available to consumers. As I think I mentioned last week, one of the successes of this strategy is that, since Amazon "stocks" academic press books, I'm loyal, and more likely to order popular press books from them, even when I can get them at Borders. In other words, there's a certain amount of long tail loyalty that persists, and that's where they compete with the bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Amazon's more obscure titles also help them sell the big ones.
So, what if the Republican party is pursuing the same strategy?
I'm no political historian, so I could be entirely wrong here. I know that power law curves have been applied to voting numbers and elections, so try this: treat the x-axis as the various kinds of elections, from Presidential all the way down to local, and imagine that the y-axis is the number of voters. My hunch is that this graph would look pretty similar: tons of folks voting in national elections, with a long tail of relatively low-turnout local elections.
In the 90s (and again with the caveat here), the Reps did the whole Gingrich, Contract with America thing, and I remember hearing about a lot of conservative grass-roots organizing--perhaps you recall Gingrich's "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control"? While we're bemoaning the emergence of Jesusland, I wonder honestly if we're actually seeing the results of that work in the 90s.
Because here's the deal. Unless you're a celebrity (like the Governator or Daddy's little shrub), you work your way up the ladder--you start at the tail and work towards the head. But there are advantages to incumbency--people see your name associated with victory and are more likely to make that association when they vote--so that success in the long tail may gradually trickle a candidate up towards the head.
I've been thinking about this because Steve and I chatted yesterday about this entry of his, wherein the Texas Board of Education embarks on a crusade to purge our textbooks of "asexual stealth phrases." But this isn't happening because Bush was re-elected, or at least, not only because of that. It's too simple to say that this kind of censorship is happening because Reps care about school board elections and Dems don't, but there's something to this, I think, because it's equally oversimplified to lay all of it at the feet of the national polidrama. There are limits to how successful any one candidate can be at reaching individual voters, and I think this election made that painfully clear. As shocking as it may seem, there were an awful lot of people who seemed to think that W was, on a macro level, more representative of their micro interests. Seems to me that one of the potential strategies to combat this, rather than finding more and more conservative Democrats, would be to work in a coordinated fashion at the micro level. Which, unless I miss my guess, is what the Reps have been doing for the better part of a generation now.