Political bettors who can catch on to the causes of political change before those changes show up in poll results can get a big win for themselves. Political and social change can be hard to catch before it shows up at the ballot box. But the signs of early transformations are on the ground for political bettors who know how to find them.
One of the best examples of major political changes is from an obscure political strategist from the 1970s. Few—if anyone—will know his name. But everyone will recognize his work.
How One Conservative Strategist Transformed The Republican Party
Culture war issues weren’t consistently front and center in campaigns until one Republican strategist came up with a way to win government seats from both Democrats and establishment Republicans.
Richard Viguerie was a Republican strategist who specialized in direct mail. Throughout his career as a campaign worker, he built a list of contacts that would become the foundation of his mailing list. In his book, Reaganland, Rick Perlstein cites one fundraising letter that Viguerie sent in November 1974 to over 2 million contacts:
“Are you as sick and tired as I am of liberal politicians who: Force children to be bused; appoint judges who turn murderers and rapists loose on the public; force your children to study from school books that are anti-God, anti-American, and filled with the most vulgar curse words; give your tax money to communists, anarchist and other radical organizations; do nothing about sex, adultery and homosexuality and for language on television? Are you tired of feeling no power to change things? If so, why don’t you join the Conservative Caucus?”
The Conservative Caucus was the New Right’s new political organization, headed by organizer, Howard Phillips. His organization and its subsidiaries would elevate reactionary figures and scare voters into:
- Opposing the Equal Rights Amendment
- Conflating support for gay rights with pedophilia
- Protesting textbooks that didn’t teach “correct” American history
This type of messaging may not seem out of place today. But in the 1970s, it was a novel strategy that foreshadowed a seismic change in American politics.
Viguerie: The Man Behind The Curtains
Many of these protests appeared to be grassroots movements. But Viguerie’s direct mail often played a quiet role.
For example, Viguerie played a role in reversing the NRA’s stance on gun control. As Perlstein recounts, the NRA leadership “appeared perfectly content to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to devise commonsense laws to limit firearms.”
But two years prior, Viguerie had formed a partnership with H. L. Richardson, the head of a new organization called Gun Owners of America. Viguerie’s direct mail pieces included language like “gun-grabbing, soft on crime, and destroy our Constitution.” This began a radicalization process that two members of the NRA would finish.
In 1976, Harlon Bronson Carter and Neal Knox conspired to overthrow the existing NRA leadership. By May 1977, their faction had control over the NRA and reversed the organization’s official stance on gun control.
Viguerie may not have been a part of the NRA. But he played a critical PR role that made Carter and Knox seem reasonable.
These are the kinds of chain reactions that political bettors need to be able to identify.
Catching Causes Of Political Change Early
Reaganland takes readers through the minute details of how a small faction of conservatives made Reagan’s electoral landslide possible. (His campaign also benefited from high inflation, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and Democratic in-fighting between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.) But Viguerie’s work should show political bettors that important electoral changes begin outside of the public eye.
Part of the challenge of political betting is identifying the Vigueries behind the curtains and watching how large swaths of the electorate behave as a result. For example, understanding how far Viguerie’s early inflammatory direct mail pieces reached could’ve helped a political bettor foresee congressional upsets that received little coverage in 1976 including:
- Orrin Hatch’s election to the Senate
- S. I. Hayakawa’s election to the Senate
- Dan Quayle’s election to the House
These politicians positioned themselves as outsiders and used reactionary social issues to fell supposedly unbeatable incumbents. These were surprising victories on the surface. But understanding the organizations grooming voters to be receptive to candidates like them makes their victories seem less surprising.
Advanced political betting is hard work. There’s no way around it. Reacting to the news is a poor betting strategy. There’s nothing wrong with credible news sources. But major news stories cover seismic shifts after they happen. They won’t catch the silent causes of political change until they can be examined in hindsight.
This is a critical insight for bettors eyeing congressional races, presidential races, or balance-of-power markets. Like sports bettors, political bettors can’t get out of heavy studying to create sound betting systems.