How Much Do You Care?

In politics, it all comes down to salience. 

We often hear about survey research confirming that most Americans believe X or Y (usually, a relatively liberal policy), and then wonder why we can’t get lawmakers to pass X or Y. The usual cynical answer is money–the folks bankrolling the lawmakers–and there is certainly truth to that.

But the most accurate explanation is salience–or more accurately, the lack thereof. How much do the people expressing their approval of policy X or Y actually care about the issue?

I first realized the importance of the answer to that question several years ago, when a commission co-chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Shepard and former Indiana Governor Kernan concluded that Indiana needed to dispense with the 1008 township offices that had once had multiple duties, but for many years had mainly dispensed poor relief and maintained pauper cemeteries. (California, to the best of my recollection, had 59 townships at the time, reinforcing the argument that Indiana’s 1008 were excessive.) The commission noted that, to the extent that township duties still needed to be performed, the counties could easily take over those responsibilities.

Indiana’s townships were created when the ride to the county seat took half a day by horseback. The townships’ poor relief function preceded creation of federal welfare programs; not only was the need for local relief far less, several research projects showed that it cost taxpayers 1.50+ for every dollar of poor relief the townships were dispensing.

In addition, the Commission’s report noted that every one of those townships was paying a salary to the township trustee and a stipend to the five members of a township board. The League of Women Voters published a study showing that a number of Trustees paid rent on offices that were located in their own garages or other accessory buildings, and a number hired and paid family members as office personnel.

It all added up to a big waste of tax dollars, and the Indiana Chamber fielded a survey that found some 80% of Hoosier voters in favor of the change. The problem was, those voters really didn’t care very much. Reforming political subdivisions was way down on their list of pressing concerns. 

I bet you can guess who did care–the township trustees, and members of those township boards. They cared a lot, and they descended on the legislature in droves. Indiana still has 1008 townships.

So we come to the moral of my story. 

 A clear majority of American voters tell survey researchers that they want to protect abortion rights– at least to some extent. An even larger majority wants meaningful gun control and are unlikely to consider the current possible  “bipartisan agreement” sufficiently meaningful. Although we don’t have research on the number of voters appalled by what we are learning from the hearings being held by the January 6th Committee, it is likely to be a large number–even larger than the millions of votes cast for Joe Biden in 2020–and we can assume that those voters care about preserving American democracy and punishing the bad guys who tried to overturn it.

However, the critical question is: how much do they care? 

The midterms are coming up. Will the millions of Americans who don’t usually bother to cast a ballot go to the polls and send a clear and convincing message to lawmakers? Are these issues salient enough to enough Americans  to get them off their couches? Because if the GOP takes over the House or Senate or both, we can kiss goodby to both American democracy and accountability under the rule of law, let alone any glimmer of hope for imposing ethical standards on the Supreme Court, or curtailing the sale of weapons of war to teenagers.

If history is any guide, I’m not optimistic…..

 

19 thoughts on “How Much Do You Care?

  1. Well said Professor! Good essay.
    As the GOP reveals their true agenda the choice is clear. Democrats must overcome the barriers to vote and show up at the polls in large enough numbers to wash away the scourge of T*umpism for good.
    It seems like our society is spiraling down like a flushed toilet. When will enough people wake up to what has been rightly called a “clear and present danger”?

  2. Along these lines, I had a disturbing exchange with an old friend yesterday. We were making tentative plans for a visit. I said “I need to watch the Jan 6 Hearings in the afternoon” to which he replied “Are you serious”? He went on to explain how he is totally sick and tired of hearing ANYTHING about Trump. He agrees that Trump is a worthless creep and criminal but he is convinced that NOTHING is going to be done about it. NOTHING but a lot of talk and bluster from Washington. So that good person has tuned it all out. That is my fear. So many Americans are just sick to death of all things Trump and they now are tuning it all out for their own mental health.

  3. The most salient inference of today’s blog centers around what Republicans have for an agenda. See Rick Scott’s draconian scythe to social services that include Medicare, Social Security and public education. And don’t forget tax cuts for corporations and the rich while adding taxes to retirees. That should get peoples’ attention, shouldn’t it?

    Of course, if one is curious about the end game for Republicans, he/she needs to look no further than Texas’ idiotic, backward and horrifying agenda that returns women to 19th century status as well as all the rest. Teaching only Christianity, of course. Science moved to the back of the room so more athletics, band and cheerleaders can dominate our schools. You know, those things that make America great.

    Sheila’s point about caring about political issues is more than salient. It is critical to the very survival of our Constitution and our democracy. As Ben Franklin said, “It’s a republic madam…if we can keep it.” Those not caring enough will lose the freedoms they say they love.

  4. After the mid-term election, the popular opinion doesn’t matter. Why don’t people understand that the legislatures are controlled by wealthy elites and corporate lobbyists, and popular opinion about any particular piece of legislation has near zero impact. Democracy disappeared over the last 50 years. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

    Our democracy no longer represents the people. Here’s how we fix it | Larry Lessig | TEDxMidAtlantic
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJy8vTu66tE

  5. Christopher is correct and that is why I have departed and no longer live in the US.

  6. Stan,

    Great decision – for you. Maybe that’s what America needs. The more thinking people who leave, the easier it will be to turn this once-great country into a swamp of squealing me-firsters and corrupt fools sponsored by corporate money. Well done.

    Oh. Did you know that about 60% of American dollars resides in foreign banks? No? Well, don’t you feel more secure now?

  7. “Indiana’s townships were created when the ride to the county seat took half a day by horseback.”

    Today, the ride to my Warren Township office is 7-8 minutes; if it were not there I would NOT be able to have resolved a number of myown problems or gotten information regarding problems in my area. When I moved back here from Florida in 2021 the Warren Township Assessor provided not only much information but figured out why the property taxes on my home were, even in his estimate, far too high. He eventually tracked the problem to an assessment from years before which had included my 22 X 22 foot detached garage as part of the living area of my home. Only one of the times he came to my aid during the first few months; when I said I wished there was a way to fully thank him for his help, he said I could vote for him in the upcoming Primary Election. I went to the polls and had to ask which party he was running on; Bill Birkle was a Republican and the only person I voted for in that Primary. Being a Democrat, that was how much I cared about an elected official who actually worked for the people. When I moved a few years later, in the same Warren Township area, he was again always there to help with information and problem solving.

    I care enough to send donations from my low-income to Democratic candidates in other states in hopes of breaking the state level stranglehold on this nation by Republicans. When I see on the news that someone paid $75,000.00 for an original video tape of “Back To The Future”, it sickens me that they paid just to be able to brag that they paid that amount, which is more than the assessed value of my home. I fill out surveys, petitions and respond to questions from political leaders. Our lawmakers are the end of the line to place blame for conditions today; we must begin with our family members, friends, neighbors and ourselves who elect them to ask the question “How Much Do You Care?”

    “Will the millions of Americans who don’t usually bother to cast a ballot go to the polls and send a clear and convincing message to lawmakers?”

  8. re: Twp. trustees, and an indirect relationship to salience.

    You are absolutely correct that trustees don’t have an awfully lot to do anymore. Ours out here in a rural one where the largest town, and therefore where the office is, has a population of around 1100.
    About the only thing that relates to me in anyway is if I make an improvement on the house – you know like a new roof or add on a room. And they DO report that the the County Assessor.
    But, experience shows that not only do the voters not care about abolishing the office, it seems to say they DO like having a trustee – just in case they would need the services they provide. Very few ever do or ever will, but there is at least somebody who is there to listen to any gripes they have, regardless.
    So, here’s what I’d suggest – instead of abolishing the office, give the elected trustees something to do.
    One thing I’d suggest right off is for the rural counties is to abolish the elected member of the school boards in them, and have the trustees serve, because each twp in the school corporation also has an elected member of the school board! Trustees used to run the schools anyway, and this would return some duties to them that have meaning.
    There are other duties they should take on, too. One, is to report to the county highway department what the conditions of the roads in the township are. In the past, some roads have been closed simply because the highway department didn’t think they were used enough to warrant a new bridge – which really wouldn’t have cost very much, anyway. Or they let some lightly traveled roads become quagmires and never grade them. That could remove one or two jobs each county foots the bill for, too.
    When teaching h.s. government, I always pointed out that the U.S. has a huge number of layers of government, and for the heck of it, let me list those I can think of right off:
    1. trustee, with advisory council
    2. county council
    3. county commissioners
    4. in towns & cities a whole bunch of other ones, too.
    5. In the Indiana Gen. Ass. we have a bicameral legislature.
    6. We have a Governor
    7. Judges who we vote for or against ‘retaining’ every few years.
    8. And, of course, we have all the elected state officials which includes State Attorney General, (now Todd Rokita, who thinks its his duty to sue the Governor and with the separation of duties set up in the Constitution of 1851, he may be right).
    8. Then, we get into all the national duties of government with Congress, the national judicial system, and, of course, the Executive Branch.

    So, down here at the bottom, why not just switch a few duties around, and dispense with separate elected school boards, members of which have obtained that office over just one or at most, two issues, anyway. Then? People would be required to vote for neighbors of which they know something about, as well as what their opinions are on a few issues – like how the county is taking care of something import – like the roads.
    And, when they’re voting for that trustee, they might actually cast a ballot for some official higher up!

  9. What I loved about the townships was that my property taxes were higher on the $9,000. house I bought than on the $150,000 (seems cheap now, doesn’t it) houses that were just north of 38th Street. Why? 1) There is a ton of nontaxable government and church property in Center township. 2) Our friends in government gave away tax abatements to any corporation that dangled the prospect of a new building anywhere in Indy. 3) Townships outside of Center would inform poor people that they couldn’t help them, because they didn’t have the resources. They would give them the address of the Center Township office and send them there. Their poor relief funds went into the pockets of the “poor” relatives they hired, as wages.

    Wake up and VOTE!

  10. Stephen, while I don’t disagree with your suggestion with respect to Township Trustees assuming school board positions, it WOULD come full circle from where public education was 70 years ago….in the hands (partially) of the townships.

    Prior to the massive consolidation that occurred in the 50’s and 60’s that was enabled by federal legislation, the public schools were directly under the control of township trustees….why we can still see a few of the one-room schools scattered about.

    They were also cesspools of grifting and nepotism. It was not uncommon for the trustee to hire his brother-in-law out of a factory to become the principal and his unmarried daughter to be a teacher and so on. Policy makers knew that the US could not remain competitive in the world with such a mishmash of schools where quality varied wildly from state to state, city to city and township to township. And there is still a LOT of said inconsistency and conflict over how to address it that has been raging for 30 years.

    In LaGrange Co, where about 40% of the population is Old Order Amish (depending on how you define it), the Township Trustee is also responsible for issuing license plates to owners of buggies. They cost $100/yr in our county which is a good deal considering that a typical automobile driver will pay over $400/yr in gas taxes and $200-$500 more/yr for excise tax, wheel tax and plate fees. Also, in Indiana if you purchase or lease an e-car you will be assessed a special plate tax of $150/yr to compensate for the loss of gas tax revenue! To top it all off, the traffic from 1,000-1,200 lb. horses with steel shoes will demolish a newly resurfaced road in no time – leaving a 2-ft wide trough in the road to straddle if you’re driving a car.

    In fairness the Amish fund their own one-room schools that support the majority (but not all) their children’s 8-year education and they still pay property taxes that partially fund our traditional public schools (also used by many Amish families).

    But if it were up to me and I could make only one change, it would be to consolidate the responsibilities of the county board of commissioners into a single elected county executive. Far more would be gained from improvements in accountability and efficiency than by eliminating township trustees and boards.

  11. Good morning Vernon Turner,

    You are very circumspect about introspection today LOL!

    There are a few on this blog site who actually are very circumspect, Patrick Wilshire, Paul Ogden, Lester Levine, JoAnn, Jack, and of course you Vernon Turner!

    That’s my opinion, and most would agree, who am I anyway, LOL!

    I remember being told on this blog couple of years ago, that history wasn’t cyclical, and then, I mentioned, “if it’s time, it’s time!” I was told that was ridiculous! On another blog site about 8 years ago I talked about the supreme court, that was the biggest issue and it was going to shape government! I was told that was ridiculous, and the houses of the legislature were what mattered!

    So, here we are! Are people tired of all of the insanity? Sure, but there’s a method to the madness. Remember Muhammad Ali? Remember his trademark rope-a-dope? His opponent would flail and flail at him until they were wore out? Then he would bounce off the Rope and knock out the Dope.

    That is exactly what’s happening today! I remember patmcc (I believe News Views?)over the years, always very steadfast in comments made. Back then I used to comment as Johnny reddog, because that was my actual nickname, but I figured my real name and picture should be used instead of an avatar picture and a nickname. That blog although very liberal, wasn’t quite as divided.

    Not long after, some Trump nut in Texas did his research and sent me a threat. Unfortunately a paper tiger can be decapitated with a pair of scissors, much to his chagrin.

    I think foresight is important, and the folks I’ve mentioned seem to use it quite a bit. And the only way you can acquire it, is to be active in your research, and don’t limit your research material.

    People are usually told what to believe, or they want to be told what to believe, it’s easier for them to digest.

    Sometimes research is painful, and a belief might not really be based in what some consider, reality. But faith based in research and knowledge, combined with experience, gives individuals a much broader viewpoint. There is always room for debate, but open minds are usually few and far between. It really doesn’t matter the spot or stripe!

    Do you go along to get along? Or do you stick to your personal values that have been acquired over a lifetime of knowledge and experience?

    The specter of victimhood is ever present, but actually what is victimhood?

    More than likely, a majority of the population on either side of the coin suffers from interpersonal victimhood, like the victim Nazi, here’s a victimization for you,😫 a victimization for you,👉 and a victimization for you!👈

    Everyone is victimized! 🫢

    When fact and Truth become obsolete, but willful delusion and willful ignorance become self gratifying and acceptable, the “Judas Goat” has done its job, and led the lambs to slaughter!

  12. Patrick Wiltshire,

    I agree, you have the municipal government, the township government, the county government, the state government, then the Federal government! Every one of these with their hands in your pocket! And let’s not forget the school districts which have taxation authority, or, Forest preserve districts, public colleges, and other entities. All taxation, any raise in taxation, should be voted on by The general population. And many of these governments, they’re all redundant, they aren’t needed! You have a roads and bridge manager in the municipal government, a roads and bridge manager in the township government, a roads and bridge manager in county government, and the roads and bridge manager in state government the department of transportation. What’s the point? These politicians are on easy Street making six figure salaries.

    A village manager, eliminate townships, each village manager would be part of a county board. No state provided or county provided vehicle, they can conduct business through zoom. And then, State government should be reorganized. Make some people actually do some work for a change!

  13. I will gently remind my “Sheila blog pals” that the majority of voters are neither DEM or GOP and it is likely they who hold our future in their ballots – should they choose to get one and use it.

    A further reminder of some basic “sanity” out there – voters see polls on public opinion and then see government doing zip. Perfect example – path to citizenship for DACA. For years, a significant majority of all voters, including a majority of the GOP agree with this…and it neither gets proposed, nor voted on BY ITSELF. Likewise for “no fly, no buy” for gun safety, agreed on by material majority of NRA members. I could go on…

  14. All that you say is very true! We, “woke” white, upper-middle class men (and secondarily perhaps – women) – ridicule – The Trumpism – share some Good Words – but few of us: really get involved and try to do what we can to counter-act that which we know is totally wrong! I know that I am “crazy” and some would say: “over-react” – (having a Black, Queer identified female partner and a Black-trans-gender-fluid-step-child {life expectancy 36 years}) – but so few do more than talk. I’m NOT saying others should act similarly to how I go – about PLEASE – do what you can! Saturday was my first shift as a Clinic Escort at a local Abortion Clinic, http://www.EndThePatriarchy.org – MERJ – Men for Equity and Reproductive Justice-co-founder, Caring White Men Sharing Together: (www.CaringWhiteMen.com) – co-founder, Dr. Shelly Tochluk – author of “Witnessing Whiteness…” – co-producing major workshop: 2-5 pm + optional hour for q&a (E Time) – Sunday August 14th – CallingInBuildingAllies@gmail.com – for link for registering (free). I do more – but I ask others – to please – do what you can – on whatever is your most valued – issue. Thanks!

  15. Vernon, we miss you in Florididia!
    Burnout is our enemy. Speaking for myself, if I don’t watch today’s hearing it is because I have had no doubt, from the get-go that DT is a lifelong criminal/grifter with no bottom, being the Malignant Narcissist that he is. I believe that he first ran for president because he saw
    that candidacy as an easy grifting opportunity; that he never thought he’d win, and that is why it took him several hours to claim that victory on election night, 2016; that he wants to be president, now, because it would shield him from indictment…and be a grifter’s gift.

    C’mon Georgia!

  16. Why do people seem to believe that corporations grow as their ability to service a growing market requires more complexity and capacity and therefore more employees, but government is different? Why do people seem to enjoy paying more for more stuff but not paying more for more government to pay for the infrastructure that has to grow with the amount of stuff people own?

  17. If history is any guide, I’m not optimistic…..

    Neither am I. So, people will have to take up arms again and fight in a revolution? I am 71 and too old to fight. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do when we lose American democracy? Franklin warned about this, and I care deeply, but at this point what can I do?

  18. Roger….you need to do what many folks of all ages are doing that they never thought they would even talk about….think about moving out of the US….

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