Over the last several years, the media has repeatedly predicted the end of the freedom movement. The party is over. Only the left can successfully engage grassroots activity. The Tea Party was just a phase. At the same time, the political establishment’s conventional wisdom declares TV advertising to be the difference between success and failure.
It may have been true in the past that the left dominated the ground game and that voters were at the beck and call of the TV box, but recent years have proven that there’s been a paradigmatic shift in the political process. Conservatives and libertarians have become a force to be reckoned with at the grassroots level, and grassroots campaigning itself has and will continue to prove the difference-maker at the ballot box. The big picture here is that decentralization as a concept and strategy is changing how elections are won and lost.
The immense oversaturation of misleading and deceptive ads on TV combined with the principled due diligence of the freedom movement has severely decreased the power of the traditional airwave strategy. Traditional, door-to-door, face-to-face grassroots campaigns are taking its place. We’ve seen it over and over again; grassroots candidates being heavily outspent, especially on the tube, and yet prevailing on Election Day thanks to thousands of regular Americans spending thousands of hours pounding the pavement and spreading their message. This general election cycle will be no different.
Several battleground races are incredibly close, and grassroots efforts will make the difference. It’s almost as if we’ve come full circle in a sense — we’re back to the pre-Eisenhower days of successful campaign tactics. In a world where everything is radically decentralizing (save for government), political activity on the right is eschewing the top-down, single-message strategy of blasting voters with $2 billion worth of 30-second TV spots.
Marginal voters who have previously dropped out — those who vote sporadically and generally do not see a difference between the parties and the candidates — are tuning in to the freedom movement’s message, turning off the TV, adopting their tactics, and hitting the streets. This strategy is also resonating with voters; with the majority of the public disenchanted with contemporary politics, many people are finding more value in looking to their friends, family, and community for useful information.
Poll after poll measures the public’s dissatisfaction with the way Washington “works,” and that feeling is extending to the official gatekeepers of candidates’ messaging. When activists take the time to get out of their comfort zones and knock on a voter’s door, this act resonates as something that is sincere and true. It takes something special to believe so fundamentally that you are willing to engage total strangers.
The Internet is also changing the way voters and activists educate themselves, and it’s the most radically decentralized means of them all. As Nobel economist F.A. Hayek argues, the nature of knowledge itself is decentralized. Those with the best knowledge on a particular subject can get the story out first and anyone in the country can access it. There is real competition in what is most relevant to know. The Internet also allows for many different kinds of discussion at one time. This decentralization is just one way to level the playing field between the insiders and the broad electorate.
This combination of being able to access information, leverage personal relationships, and create human connections through grassroots activity has and will continue to change the political landscape. Look to the close races in Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example. In Ohio, conservative activists are taking on seasoned and entrenched unions for grassroots dominance. In Pennsylvania, Tom Smith has the Senate race tighter than anyone thought possible.
These are but two examples, but the larger theme can be found in Republican primary races, the red sweep in 2010, and the 2012 election, which will be remembered as another historic election powered by the grassroots. We’re not just seeing a qualitative advantage in our candidates; we’re adopting a qualitative advantage in our campaigning.
It is my sense that the freedom movement owns the ground game, and that will be the margin that gives Republicans control of the Senate and the White House.
Matt Kibbe is the president of FreedomWorks and author of the “Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government’s Stranglehold on America.”