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Strategic voting, round two

With the presidential election approaching and Ralph Nader maintaining his candidacy, activists have put together at least one new project to advocate and coordinate strategic voting: VotePair is a renewal of the “Nader Trading” that took place prior to the 2000 election, an effort to unite democratic, left-leaning and progressive voters in swing states with their counterparts in safe states. (In 2000, strategic voting was not limited to liberal voters; projects also formed to provide options for conservative voters dissatisfied with the Republican ticket, as well as other so-called discouraged voters.)

In 2000, Jennifer Earl (now at UC Santa Barbara) and I watched the strategic voting movement emerge and spent some time tracking it through the election. The resulting set of data has been really useful to us, producing several papers that broadly explore the fit of online-organized and -executed activism with the theoretical expectations of various threads of social movement and collective behavior research. We try to move past the “bigger faster and distributed” understanding that characterizes much work on the topic, to make what we think are some interesting contributions to better understanding of how online activism works.

The current rebirth of strategic voting presents some really interesting possibilities: Whereas previously it was a new kind of activity, it now has some history and some maturity, which are likely to be reflected in the way that trading projects are put together, how they are covered by the media (there has already been some news coverage, even on the local networks here), who leads them, and how they interact with legal and political authorities. It’s possible that the strategic voting movement of this election will look very different from the one we observed four years ago; one of the neat questions to ask of this second round of strategic voting is if the variation that we may see this time is related to the maturity of the movement, the development of online tools for activism, or both—or perhaps some other set of factors entirely.

If you’re interested in more, see the work we’ve done so far:

  • Schussman, Alan, and Jennifer Earl. 2004. “From Barricades to Firewalls?: Strategic Voting and Social Movement Leadership in the Internet Age.” Sociological Inquiry 74(4):439-463.
  • Earl, Jennifer, and Alan Schussman. 2004. “Cease and Desist: Repression, Strategic Voting and the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election.” Mobilization 9(2):181-202.
  • Earl, Jennifer, and Alan Schussman. 2003. “The New Site of Activism: Online Organizations, Movement Entrepreneurs, and the Changing Location of Social Movement Decision-Making.’’ Research in Social Movements, Conflict & Change 24:153-187.