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Operation Hilarity was a good idea destined to fail

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I know that John disagrees with me about the relative merit of Operation Hilarity, an organized effort to buoy Rick Santorum with Democratic votes in open primary states.  But I think that it is important to examine why it did not achieve the success that we (or at least I) hoped it could have.

In theory, Democrats that want to take down Mitt Romney could potentially do more good for President Obama by voting for Rick Santorum in open primary states than sending the President five bucks; facing a weaker candidate in the general election is worth just as much to the Obama campaign as a LOT of small contributions. It was in this spirit that Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos launched Operation Hilarity.

But crossover voting generally proves to be a huge collective action problem because it's too easy to free-ride on the crossover votes of your fellow partisans (meaning, you assume your friends are voting so you don't have to). As proved to be the case with Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos in 2008 (which urged GOP voters to support Hillary in open primaries in order to prolong the Democratic nominating process), it's a difficult proposition to reach the scale required to overcome the free-rider problem, and therefore large amounts of crossover votes are hard to come by.

An article I just published for NextGen Journal gets into the details of why I think this is the case. If you can bear with rational choice theory language, it offers a theoretical explanation for why Operation Hilarity didn't live up to its billing in Michigan or on Super Tuesday, and what all of this says about American democracy.

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