Do fantasy football players know something that many voters do not?
Around 24 million Americans obsess over football players they will never actually control. Their activity costs the economy an estimated $6 billion a year in lost productivity, and they warmly embrace the term “fanatic.” They are fans even though their games have no impact on the real world.
I am starting to see parallels with certain fanatics of a political stripe. (And this pains me to make the comparison, being an occasional fantasy sports player myself.)
Beyond the jump, new polling that shows Republican voters more marginalized but also more energized since they have a powerful sports lesson working in their favor. Progressives would do well to remember this for the 2014 midterms.
A rash of new polling reaffirms that Republican voters are comfortable with becoming a smaller but more hardened national minority. Presidential aspirants, as a result, must swing so far to the right in the primaries that it becomes impossible to come back to the center before November and convince general election voters that their fringeworthy positions haven’t made them cringeworthy candidates.
On immigration, a new Washington Post poll finds a path to citizenship supported by 57 percent of Americans (and similar numbers of moderates and independents) but only 35 percent of Republicans. Similar percentages can be seen in a question about making same-sex marriage legal. And the spread isn't much different on repealing Obamacare.
On balancing the budget in a balanced way, a Marist/NBC News poll finds 77 percent want to see either higher taxes on the rich or a mix of higher taxes and spending cuts. Just 17 percent support the extreme approach of nothing but spending cuts.
On gun safety, 87 percent of Americans in the Marist poll want to see expanded background checks even as Republicans in Congress seem poised to kill any fundamental reforms proposed since the Newtown school massacre.
Public Policy Polling measured public support last week for 20 infamous conspiracy theories. When asked about global warming, just 37 percent of Americans said it is a hoax compared to 58 percent of Republicans. And 13 percent of respondents believe the President of the United States is the anti-Christ, approaching the 14 percent who said in 2013 they believe Bigfoot is real.
With such a diversion from mainstream values, it is small wonder that national Republicans treat thoughts of a White House win as merely fantasy. So why is so much time wasted in lost productivity if they know what most Americans want?
Because they can still win plenty of games by simply showing up to play.
Gerrymandered House districts have left Americans with fanatic partisans on both sides of the aisle and very little chance for voters to elect moderates in either party’s primaries. The Cook Political Report’s new count of “swing districts” has plummeted from 164 in 1998 to just 90 today. In half of Wisconsin’s congressional districts, the 2012 winner received 64 to 72 percent of the vote in a state with a near equal split of Republicans and Democrats.
Conservatives keep winning other races because most moderate Americans are not fanatical about voting more than once every four years. In presidential elections, when Wisconsin sees 70 percent turnout, or about three million voters, Democrats historically do well. But in gubernatorial years like 2010 (or in the June 2012 recall), turnout sinks to 50 percent. That’s about a million fewer people who didn’t think the governor’s race was important enough to deserve their vote. And in spring elections with Supreme Court races, a turnout of 19 percent is the norm. It’s no surprise that the conservative candidate has now won six of the last seven contest court races.
Politics isn’t supposed to be a sport, but one sports lesson is clear: you cannot win if you do not play the game. Conservatives may have turned their party into a fantasy league team, a feel-good roster of positions incapable of winning the Super Bowl of elections, but they’ll keep winning other contests as long as they can count on the complacency of a million neighbors who cannot be bothered to vote unless it’s for a presidential candidate. This is what allows a governor like Scott Walker and his Supreme Court to win battles that have much more impact on all those half-hearted quadrennial voters than anything a President can do in Washington.
To think otherwise is the real fantasy.