Urban Political Legend: Karl Rove & the GOP's Famed 72-Hour GOTV Operation

by David Moon // Published November 7, 2006
Myth: Democrats should be shaking in their boots today about the GOP's famed "72-hour" get-out-the-vote operation -- at least if you've been watching television news or reading the papers in the last month:

  • But the "72-hour" get-out-the-vote (GOTV) program developed by Karl Rove ... gave Republicans a strategic and technological edge that helped them hold onto the House and Senate in the past two elections. - Christian Science Monitor
  • Republicans are also deploying their ``72-hour plan'' for turning out supporters, which party leaders have credited as a central element in their victories in 2002 and 2004. - Bloomberg News
  • Mehlman says the GOP's much-vaunted "72-hour" plan is surpassing even the grass-roots support he witnessed in 2004. - U.S. News & World Report
  • [Republicans] are gearing up for the latest iteration of the 72-Hour Plan....National Democratic officials, who lag behind in voter outreach despite their aggressive catchup efforts, concede that they would be in trouble if they stood alone in the field against this legendary Republican juggernaut. - New York Times
  • But has anyone actually demonstrated that the Republicans indeed did have a better turnout operation than the Democrats? Is the proof simply that Republicans won the last two federal election cycles?

    Truth: FairVote's analysis of the 2004 presidential elections indicates that Democrats did relatively better in battlegrounds than in the rest of the country suggests that the Democrats" campaign efforts centered on swing states were in fact more effective than those of the Republicans.

    Both parties were most focused on the 13 states that were closest in their two-party partisanship - the ones they knew would tip a 50-50 election. In these battlegrounds, Democrats improved their 2000 performance by a per-state average of 1.33% percent, making gains in 11 of 13 states. While George Bush would have won 10 of these 13 hotly contested states in 2000 had the election been tied in the national popular vote, in 2004 he would have won only five of these states if the election had been even nationally.

    It was George Bush"s national advantage in voter preference that carried him to victory, a fact that is underscored by exit polls suggesting that his key win in Ohio was far more based on converting voters who had supported Al Gore in 2000 than winning new voters.

    John Kerry"s campaign"s relative success in battlegrounds thus helps explain why there were so few shifts in the Electoral College map despite Bush going from losing by a half million votes nationally to winning the national vote by three and a half million votes.

    The lesson? Don't believe everything you read in the papers.

    [Read the Full Report]