Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is showing up. True enough -- except that in politics, the number is more like 100 percent. It doesn't matter what else you do; if your supporters don't show up and vote on Election Day, nothing else matters.
For example, a recent USA Today survey of "unlikely voters" demonstrated that if the slackers, the procrastinators,and the politically uninformed among the populace were to vote, Barack Obama would probably win handily. The problem, of course, is that those people don't generally bother to go to the polls, which is why they're called "unlikely voters" in the first place.
Pollsters put a lot of effort into trying to figure out who will actually show up, with varying results. But from the standpoint of political organizing, it's not so much about figuring out who will show up, as it is figuring out how to get your people to turn out.
Looking at some recent events, there's some reason to think that the Republicans may have the advantage this time around. Or at least, recent events that depend on people showing up have gone pretty well for folks on the Right.
One example is the massive nationwide display of support for Chick-fil-A in the face of attacks on its owners' religious beliefs. Within days of appeals for a day of support via email lists, blogs and talk radio, every Chick-fil-A in the country was swamped by lines of people patiently waiting hours to buy a chicken sandwich. Several observers commented that if there had been voting booths in each restaurant, the result would have been a landslide.
Likewise, Dinesh D'Souza's new documentary, "2016: Obama's America," quickly became the nation's leading documentary and has now expanded to more than 1,800 theaters nationwide. It's rare for a documentary to get this kind of response, and basically unheard-of for a right-leaning documentary to do so. Once again, when called upon, people showed up.
In the more obviously political realm, since the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate, crowds have been huge and lines have been long. It takes a lot to get Americans off the couch, but apparently a lot of them on the Right are now willing to do it for politics.
There's a history of this in the Obama era. Shortly after President Obama was inaugurated, a few people angry at his proposed "stimulus" bill organized protests around his visits to various places like Seattle, Denver, and Mesa, Ariz. They weren't sure if anyone would respond to their calls, but people showed up -- and within a few weeks, the Tea Party movement had appeared -- self-generated, really. Soon it was packing public spaces with people all over America. The result was the 2010 midterm "shellacking" that cost the Democrats control of the House and took the wind out of Obama's sails.
Critics called the Tea Party movement a flash in the pan, but others -- including, I might modestly note, yours truly -- saw it for what it was: another Great Awakening in American politics. I wrote: "Accustomed to major-media treatment that strongly implied that anyone favoring small government must be some kind of fringe wacko, they're discovering that lots of people feel the way they do, and that they can wield a lot of power if they try. ... Over the next couple of years, these multitudes of virgin political operatives are going to acquire considerably more experience and self-assurance, which means they're probably going to become considerably more effective, too. Politics may not be the same when they're done."
I still think that was right. Prior to Obama's election, many Americans were vaguely dissatisfied with the size and scope of government, and with the country's slow slide into fiscal ruin. But the dissatisfaction was vague, and the slide was slow -- during Bush's second term, deficits were actually dropping. That made apathy easy.
President Obama changed all of that. Through his actions, he drastically expanded the size and scope of the federal government and turned our slow slide into fiscal ruin into something more like a bobsled run. And, just as significantly, through his words he demonstrated a contempt for traditional American values of self-reliance, free enterprise and limited government. This change was dramatic enough to spark a severe counterreaction.
In 2010, the counterreaction produced a major electoral defeat for the Democrats. In 2012, it just might produce a major electoral defeat for Obama himself.
Assuming that people show up.
Examiner contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a University of Tennessee law professor and author of the Instapundit blog.