Everybody has a theory about why Eric Cantor lost, one that usually reflects their overall theory about politics: It was about immigration. Cantor was aloof and arrogant. The Tea Party is still a force in the GOP. Voters lie to pollsters. Pollsters are stupid.
Let’s consider another possible factor, one that echoes last month’s primaries in North Carolina: Are voters growing more resistant to traditional paid media?
Cantor spent $5.4 million. David Brat spent $200,000. That’s 27-to-1. The usual rules say that if you outspend your opponent 27-to-1, you can relax and drink a latte with lobbyists Election Day (which Cantor did).
Another number: Cantor’s pollster reportedly had him winning 62-28. He lost by 11 points.
Last numbers: About 65,000 people voted. One analyst said the turnout was 14 percent.
Again, I invoke the Thomas Mills Primary Poll Rule: primary polls are unreliable because it’s hard to predict who will vote. Especially with a low turnout.
But there’s something more. Cantor dominated the traditional paid media – TV ads and direct mail. He drowned Brat (what a name!) there.
But Brat had his own channels of communication: Talk radio (Glenn Beck, Rush and Laura Ingraham), social media and the beehive-like Tea Party grassroots network.
The reason big money always beat less money is that money got information to voters. In today’s world, voters – especially interested, involved voters – have lots of ways to get information on their own. And they seem to have less trust in the old ways, like TV ads and direct mail. Especially negative messages.
You saw that in North Carolina’s primaries: Robin Hudson’s ability to survive a negative TV assault and Clay Aiken’s victory despite being outspent 2-1.
We’ve got smart phones and smart cars. Why not smart voters?