The Old Rugged Cross Pressure

November 6, 2006
Posted by Jay Livingston
I don’t know if Paul Lazarsfeld (1901-1976) invented survey research and applied sociology, but he was certainly one of the most important figures in those fields. Everyone who does voter surveys today owes Lazarsfeld, big time. As we go into tomorrow’s election, I keep wondering about the Republican “base,” the Christian conservatives or conservative Christians, the “values voters” who have provided the Republicans not just votes but much of the campaign work force. And I keep remembering Lazarfeld’s concept of “cross pressures,” something he developed back in the 1940s.

Lazarsfeld thought you could make a pretty good prediction about how someone would vote if you knew about certain demographic markers — income, occupation, religion, urban or small town, etc. Often, these characteristics tended to cluster, especially in the 1940s with the dominance of the Roosevelt coalition. But what about the person who belonged to groups that pulled in different ways — the small-town Protestant (Republican pressure) who had a blue-collar union job (Democratic pressure)? Lazarsfeld’s answer was that these voters tend make up their minds later in the campaign, and sometimes they resolve their conflict by just not voting at all.
The conflict for the conservative base today is not so much between group affiliations or demographic categories but between image and reality. They have supported the war in Iraq, but more and more the reality in Iraq makes the war seem to have been a bad idea. They support the President and they support the military. But they may also hear that many generals and the military newspapers want Rumsfeld to resign while Bush wants Rumsfeld to stay. These conservatives are against sex outside of marriage, especially when it involves minors or homosexuals or both. But each week seems to bring some new scandal about homosexuality or infidelity, and the perpetrators and their protectors are Republicans.

Obviously, the Republican leadership is worried about these pressures and about the response that Lazarsfeld would predict
— staying home on election day. From the top of the party on down, GOP professionals are trying to make sure that their traditional voters come out. It’s not about converting Democrats or persuading the Independents and undecided. It’s about making sure that the hard core keep the faith, that they do not give in to cross pressures and just avoid the voting booth.

The election is no longer about issues; it’s about turnout. And that’s what a lot of people — the politicos, the network analysts, me — are going to be looking at tomorrow.

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