AlieNATION: The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012. Edited by Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart, and Mitchell S. McKinney. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. 341 pp.
The 2000 presidential election is memorable for more than its tragicomic resolution at the hands of the Supreme Court. It was also the last time that candidates focused their general election campaigns primarily on the centrist, so-called "persuadable" voter. Democrat Al Gore talked about deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, and Republican George W. Bush described himself as a compassionate conservative. The Bush campaign's indomitable architect, Karl Rove, believed that this new, more inclusive message could expand the GOP base and, perhaps, build an enduring majority party.
That campaign seems like such a long time ago. In each presidential election since, Republican and Democratic candidates have downplayed the search for the elusive persuadable voter and focused instead on identifying and mobilizing core supporters. With the rise of digital technology and social media, the task has grown more sophisticated and more successful. The question is: what impact has this intense focus on base mobilization had on the nation's civic life?
That question is the overarching focus of AlieNATION, an aptly (but perhaps too cutely) named collection of studies on the 2012 presidential election. Edited by Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart, and Mitchell S. McKinney, the book's subtitle best describes its thesis: The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012. The 17 studies use a range of methodologies and approaches to investigate the political communication employed in the 2012 race. Yet each views the campaign through "the interpretative lens of our political AlieNATION" (p. 6), as McKinney and Bystrom note in the introduction. By focusing intently on the "slicing and dicing [of] the American electorate" (p. 6), these studies strive to show how campaigns are "pitting group against group and frequently constructing the 'other' as political enemy" (p. 6). Such tactics, the introduction maintains, are contributing to the "ever-widening political fault lines" (p. 6) in our society.
Of the book's three sections, the one on the electorate is particularly insightful. Kate Kenski provides much-needed clarity concerning the gender gap and its impact on the 2012 race. Her analysis of exit poll data suggests that Democrats clearly won the framing contest concerning the Republican Party's so-called "war on...