Ground game: broken arms and politics

In the US, politics and judo have some things in common. Here’s some English vocabulary for talking about them.

ronda rousey mesha tate
Ronda Rousey has one of the best ground games in the world. Here she arm-bars Mesha Tate. Go to Google Images to find pictures of what Tate’s arm looked like afterwards. Picture source:
France is the #2 judo country in the world, after Japan.  The population of France is about 66 million people, and about 550,000 of them do judo.  (For comparison: the population of the US is bout 330 million people, and about 20,000 of them do judo.)  The first person I met in France was a diminutive, beautiful woman in her 50s or so who I ran into at a judo practice.  She’s nowhere near my size, but can arm-bar me every 7 minutes or so, on average.  She’s a great example of French judo: she beats me (over and over) not with strength, but with a subtle, contemplative approach to the sport that relies on imagination and on a deep understanding of how to move in three dimensions and apply basic principles of leverage and physics efficiently–and gently.  (Sorta like the famous French diplomacy, I guess.)  In judo, we would say that she has a great ground game—the ability to fight on the mat, off your feet, where we use not the throws of standing judo, but arm-bars, chokes, and pins.

The phrase ground game has been in the news quite a bit lately.  We often hear about what a great ground game Bernie Sanders has, or about how Trump keeps winning state primaries despite not have a good ground game.  In the context of politics, your ground game is how good your campaign is at the very local tasks that require actual personal involvement–particularly, getting your supporters to the polls.  A good ground game requires two things.

  1. You have to know who your supporters are.
  2. You have to have engaged, committed volunteers everywhere.

Regarding the first: today, this is mostly a matter of data science.  Sasha Issenberg’s book The victory lab does a very good job of telling the story of the development of today’s personalized, data-driven politics.  Once, politicians and political parties put a lot of effort into trying to convince people to get behind their ideas.  Today, it’s generally thought that trying to change people’s minds is expensive and inefficient; on the other hand, getting the people who already support you to actually go to their polling place and vote is relatively inexpensive, and it’s quite effective.  In 2008, the Obama campaign was able to develop pretty good guesses about who was going to vote for their candidate (how they did it is really interesting, but somewhat sobering—see the above-mentioned book), and they focussed their get-out-the-vote effort on those people.

Regarding the second: this is the essence of the ground game.  Cruz’s win in the Iowa primaries this nominating cycle was widely attributed to his strong ground game.  One of the many, many mysteries of the Republican race for the nomination has been that Trump has done quite well despite not having much of a ground game anywhere.


5 thoughts on “Ground game: broken arms and politics”

    1. Hi, Bea,

      It’s not technical at all. It’s really more about the evolution of how people think about the things involved in getting someone to vote–preferably, for your candidate. It turns out that there’s been a progression–over the course of almost a hundred years, if I remember correctly–of the scale at which political scientists and sociologists think about this kind of thing. Once upon a time, political discourse was very shotgun–it’s become much more personal. How this happened is the subject of the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Many people are so bad now – I mean compared to last decades, getting always worse in their lives – that they are able to vote for anything that tells a premise of “something else” . Anything, I can see it in different places of the world . This dark cloud is the same everywhere, though creating different levels of suffering .
    The fact they can vote for something that will make their personal nightmare worse is due to the absolute lack of information given to the wide majority . And again, the level of “obscurantism”, the will – and the ability – to obscure the people’s consciousness, is darker is some countries than in others .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you about the pervasiveness of this phenomenon in world politics in general these days. My only hope at this point regarding the situation in the current American presidential election is that Trump only has the support of about 30% of Republicans, and Republicans are only about 30% of the American voting public. Another 30% of the American voting public are Democrats, with 60% being “independents.” The independents decide the outcomes of our presidential elections, and they’re not very likely to vote for Trump.


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