The Power of the Vote: Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy around the World

The Power of the Vote: Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy around the World

by Douglas E. Schoen


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In The Power of the Vote, Douglas E. Schoen - one of the premier strategists in the history of Democratic politics - offers a never-before-seen glimpse inside the most pivotal campaigns of his storied career, providing an essential primer for understanding the elections of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

From the legendary New York City mayoral race of 1977 to his twenty-year efforts to modernize Israeli politics to Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, Schoen takes you on a fascinating, eye-opening ride across the international political landscape of the past three decades. Demonstrating how politics has evolved and how he has utilized the latest technology to help candidates win the hearts and minds of the public, he also presents a detailed discussion of the strategies and tactics that will shape the future of electoral politics and lead the Democrats back to the White House in 2008.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061440809
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

Douglas E. Schoen has been a Democratic campaign consultant for more than thirty years with his firm Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The Power of the Vote
Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy Around the World

Chapter One

Canvassing, the Klan, and the Plot to Take Over New York City

It was one of those classic, miserable, late-autumn afternoons in New York City—rainy, windy, and raw—when no sensible person lingers outside. Yet there I was, a sixteen-year-old high school senior sitting on a park bench at Eighty-First Street and Columbus Avenue next to a recent Columbia graduate—and newly elected district leader—named Jerry Nadler. Today, Jerry represents the Upper West Side and part of Brooklyn in Congress, but that afternoon he was merely an operative—a large, effusive operative with a message so important, so consequential that he couldn't risk divulging it within the earshot of another person.

Jerry's message concerned the powers that controlled the Upper West Side. Three years earlier, supporters of presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy had begun to wrest control of the neighborhood away from the reform Democrats who only a few years before had dispatched the last remnants of the old Tammany Hall machine. But now, Nadler whispered, the reformers who had ousted Tammany were themselves finished. A new power structure was forming, he exclaimed breathlessly, led by a secret new boss who was, moreover, a political genius—a reclusive figure who was wise beyond his years, a master political strategist who could analyze political trends "down to the individual apartment building."

"He will be one of the top strategists in America very soon—if he isn't already," Nadler declared. He went onto describe how this mysterious figure and his followers (of whom Jerry was one)—a group that had come to be known as the West Side Kids—were systematically canvassing and organizing the Upper West Side block by block, building by building, with the goal of controlling first that bastion of liberalism and then, ultimately, all of New York City. In effect, Nadler was describing in embryonic detail a new world of campaigning—a world where understanding public opinion and the issues that motivated voters was the true currency of political power. In 1969, this was a thrilling and novel idea. More thrilling still, the unnamed mastermind of this effort had chosen me to be one of his minions—if I could prove myself worthy.

As cold and wet as I was, I was intrigued. All my life, I had been obsessed with politics. My decision to spend my junior year playing football for the Horace Mann School rather than engaging in anti-war activities had given rise to intense guilt. Politics was in my family: my uncle Jack Bronston was an influential state senator in Queens, and my fondness for statistics—baseball, at that point—was a telltale indicator of my future as a pollster. Nadler was now offering me a chance to participate in the political life of New York City. Exactly how I would be participating was not at all clear, but I was interested. I told Nadler that I definitely wanted to meet this figure. Jerry was pleased.

"We'll be in touch," he told me, and then he was gone.

The phone call came several days later. "Doug? Yes? Good. You talked to Jerry? Yes? Good. I want you to come over for dinner on Tuesday. You can come? Good. See you at seven." The voice was brusque, the conversation fast, but I did manage to catch my interlocutor's name—Dick Morris. Yes, that Dick Morris.

For any student of modern politics, the name Dick Morris is familiar and, some would say, infamous. To me, Dick is a discredited and tragic figure, a man whose personal and professional excesses during President Clinton's 1996 campaign almost destroyed his career and marriage. But in 1969, Morris was a fresh face—a recent Columbia graduate and the secret mastermind of the West Side Kids.

I arrived at Morris's building at Riverside Drive and Ninety-fifth Street in a state of some anxiety. I knew from Nadler that Morris was a fanatical canvasser. The fact that he was willing to take time off to have dinner with me was a signal honor, and I wanted to make a good impression. I was also nervous about Morris's building. With its peeling paint and broken elevator, it didn't exactly look like the emerging center of power in New York City. When the door opened, I didn't feel much better. Standing before me was an ordinary looking twenty-two-year-old in a button-down shirt holding a glass of orange juice. The apartment looked forlorn, like a seldom-used Bolshevik safe house, furnished only with a card table and folding metal chairs.

Generally, when you go to someone's apartment for dinner, there are pleasantries involved. You make small talk, discuss current movies, what's in the news, and so on. That was not the case with Dick and his then-wife Gita. Spending time with them, there was no discussion of personal lives. It was all about politics. As Gita struggled with a take-out chicken, the talk came fast, almost breathlessly. We're building a cadre of skilled activists, Dick told me, among them Gita ("I married her because of her organizing ability," Dick later confided) and Dick Dresner, a one-time professional bowler whom Morris had convinced to give up the lanes for block associations. Everyone was hard working, dedicated to the cause, single-minded, and utterly committed to the art of canvassing. I would be part of this elite crew.

"I know things about political organizing that no one else does," he said. "Sign on, and you'll learn them too."

It was like an indoctrination ritual for a cult. Gita listened rapturously, making sure that Morris's glass of orange juice was never empty.

"But I want to go to Harvard," I told him.

"Give it up," Dick said flatly. "Go to Columbia and work for me as a canvasser. I'll give you a block to organize," he continued. "You will canvass it; you will know every building's issues; you will own it. It will be yours."

The work would be hard, he warned, but the rewards would be great. Morris promised that, in a year or two, I would be a district leader. Two or three years later, I might be an assemblyman or even a state senator. After that, who knew where I could end up?

The Power of the Vote
Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy Around the World
. Copyright © by Douglas Schoen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>

Table of Contents

Introduction     ix
Birth of a Pollster
Canvassing, the Klan, and the Plot to Take Over New York City     3
Harvard, Ivy League Radical Chic, and the Crisis of the Democratic Party     23
The Invention of Overnight Polling, Ed Koch, and Politics in the Big Easy     43
Going Global
Polling in the Promised Land     69
Public Opinion Research and the Fall of Slobodan Milosevic     103
Broadband Politics, Ugly Americans, and Politics in the Shadow of the World's Most Dangerous State     149
The Big Time
New Democrats, Inoculation, Bill Clinton, and Ma Bell     187
The Stealth Campaign and the Resurrection of the Clinton Presidency     211
Jon Corzine, Competitive Liberalism, and the Importance of Messaging     251
September 11, Mike Bloomberg, and the Rise of the Outsider     271
An Uncertain Future
The Power and Possibilities of Exit Polls     307
Pitfalls on the Path to 2008     335
Notes     369
Acknowledgments     377
Index     381

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