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Doorstep Democracy

Doorstep Democracy: Face-to-Face Politics in the Heartland

James H. Read
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Doorstep Democracy
    Book Description:

    At once a memoir of a hard-fought contest and a meditation on the state of American democracy, Doorstep Democracy refuses the “red state” versus “blue state” view of American voters. James Read shows the power of kitchen-table politics and proves how conversations between citizens concerned about their communities can get us beyond the television ads, mass mailings, and sound bites to rejuvenate American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6659-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. INTRODUCTION: Political Campaigns as Conversation
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    We thrill once again to the all-absorbing leap-year spectacle of the presidential campaign. We ask ourselves, which candidate is the most charismatic orator? Which candidate was captured on camera making a face or refusing to shake hands? Or we fancy ourselves elite strategists ensconced in campaign war rooms, crunching poll numbers and manipulating delegate blocs like chess pieces.

    Thus we imagine ourselves protagonists in the national democratic drama when in truth most of us are mere spectators. If democracy were only this glittering pageant, we would not have democracy at all; we would merely have elected kings and queens.


  4. CHAPTER ONE How I Got into This
    (pp. 1-28)

    It all began with the caucuses. I simply wanted to “get involved.” I had no idea how involved I would get.

    Minnesota’s precinct caucuses intrigued me. I had never lived in a state that offered ordinary citizens any comparably intense form of political participation. I intended to be no more than a low-level participant, just enough to satisfy a political theorist’s curiosity.

    On the evening of Tuesday, February 27, 1990, I attended the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party caucus at Kennedy Elementary School in St. Joseph. (The Democratic Party in Minnesota is officially named the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL; it was...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Doorstep Conversations
    (pp. 29-56)

    I march along to the next house, careful not to endanger a vote by cutting across the lawn. I record the street address and the name if visible on the mailbox. On my way up the driveway I look for politically revealing bumper stickers, yard signs, and posters. I carry a handful of campaign brochures and a clipboard (which I try to keep inconspicuous) on which I record each contact’s sex, first and last name if they are willing to reveal it, and an estimate of their age. Later I will classify each voter according to his or her response...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Media Messages
    (pp. 57-80)

    In mid-October we began running the following thirty-second radio ad, which we titled “New Shoes.” I wrote the script and played myself in the ad. Pia was Voice One, the narrator, and Voice Two was Charlotte Fisher, a campaign volunteer, nurse, and health care activist.

    Many voters I subsequently contacted at their doors told me they had heard this ad and liked it. “Hardworking people deserve a hardworking representative” was my campaign slogan, and the purpose of the ad was to remind people that I was indeed working hard. The dialogue was corny but effective because it was true: a...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Dollars and Private Promises
    (pp. 81-100)

    On July 9, I officially filed with the secretary of state’s office as a candidate for the Minnesota Legislature in District 14A. Soon afterward I began receiving dozens of questionnaires in the mail from, to name a few, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the Minnesota Education Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Association of Realtors, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Abortion Rights Council of Minnesota, the Minnesota League of Conservation Voters, the National Rifle Association, the Minnesota Hospital Association. As a political scientist, I knew about the role...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Abortive Dialogue
    (pp. 101-132)

    On July 15 when I was door-knocking in the town of Holdingford, I flagged down a man mowing his lawn who seemed to be in his late sixties. He turned out to be an old-time Democrat who had once been active in local campaigns. He used to own a hog farm but now lived here in town. We talked about the condition of the roads, the strengths and weaknesses of past Democratic legislative candidates, and other things. He seemed to like me immediately, and I liked him. He spontaneously pulled out his wallet and gave me a $20 campaign contribution...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Countdown, Recount, and Retrospect
    (pp. 133-164)

    Last-minute stratagems would not win this election for me. Winning depended on the base I had built up over six months of door knocking. But we feared we couldlosethe election in the final days if voters whom I had persuaded to support me turned away because of some last-minute development or attack. A whole series of end-of-campaign crises threatened to erode the support I had worked so hard to build. Even if the number of voters swayed by last-minute communications was small, in a close election these last-minute shifts could be decisive.

    The previous chapter has already described...

  10. CONCLUSION: Door-Knocking Democracy
    (pp. 165-190)

    In political time the year 1992 may seem ages in the past. Some people to whom I have mentioned this narrative ask, “Hasn’t politics completely changed since then?” In some important respects politics has indeed changed, most obviously through the advent of the Internet as a tool of political communication. In political campaigns modern information technologies allow for much more precise identification and classification of supporters than were possible two decades ago. Mass media culture, in a shift pioneered by Fox and imitated by other networks, has moved even further away from the ideal of journalistic impartiality in its treatment...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 191-192)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-200)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)