Both Democrats and Republicans spend a good deal of time trying to convince the public that the crazier elements of the other party's coalition in fact constitute the very heart of that coalition. I've made the case plenty of times that the left's extremists (I tend to use "the trustafarian kid with the 'Free Mumia' sign" as a shorthand) are all but irrelevant to the Democratic Party, while the right's extremists are much more central to the Republican Party. But even if you disagree, the fact remains that both sides work hard to cast a light on the other side's unsavory elements.
But does it work? I must confess that in recent months I've begun to doubt that all the "Look at how nuts they are!!!" really has much of an impact on your average (i.e. inattentive) independent voter, the one who doesn't already know whom she's voting for in 2010, 2012, and every election afterward. But perhaps there's hope after all. Yesterday, Kevin Drum noticed that in Gallup polls anyway, when Republican enthusiasm for voting goes up, independents' preference for Republicans seems to go down. In other words, the sight of highly motivated conservatives is a bit of a turn-off. Today, political scientist Phil Klinker helps out with some data showing that the correlation between independents' preference for Democrats and Republicans' enthusiasm for voting is .17, a real association, and one of pretty good size given all the other variables that affect vote choice.
So maybe all Democrats need in order to minimize their losses in November are more stories about Sarah Palin's tweets and more attention for nutball Tea Party candidates. And some job growth wouldn't hurt, either.
-- Paul Waldman