Tag Archives: GOTV

Messaging

A longtime friend–a moderate Democrat–recently sent me the following email (I am pasting it in verbatim.)

A recent headline, “The brand is so toxic Dems fear extinction in rural US” jumped off the page. The article by AP writer Steve Peoples repeated and articulated well what so many of us have thought for several years. Ds do a terrible job of creating a desirable brand. Here, in southern Indiana, where less than 10% of the population has a college degree, Ds use terms like metric tons of CO2, while Rs talk about outrageous price per gallon at the pump. Ds read and quote the NYT and US News and condemn the idea of book police. Rs text why Coach Woodson’s player rotation is wrong. Ds promote the statistical benefits of vaccinations. Rs simply demand that the school kids not have to wear a damn mask.

I am proud to be among the 10% who read the NYT, see benefit in exposure to ideas, think the liberal arts professors are underpaid and still wear my mask into ACE Hardware. But Mr. Peoples is correct. One need only look at Indiana’s 9th congressional district to see clear and irrefutable evidence. We Ds are terrible at branding. We seem doomed to take a licking, and maybe soon stop ticking, to paraphrase John Cameron Swayze.

It’s hard to disagree with the essential point, which is that Democratic “talking points” aren’t connecting to those we think of as “average Americans.” I would also agree with the rather obvious implication of that observation, to wit: Democrats need to fashion messages that would be likely to resonate with the inhabitants of southern Indiana and the country’s rural precincts.

However.

It’s easy enough to cringe at slogans like “Defund the Police” –which not only repelled large numbers of voters, but utterly failed to describe the policy change that was  being proposed.  The persistent complaints about messaging, however, aren’t limited to such examples.

It may be worth taking a step back and examining the roots of that perceived messaging problem–and the extent to which it is and is not about messaging.

As I have previously noted, today’s Democratic Party is not only a far bigger “tent” than the GOP, it is a far bigger tent than it has previously been, thanks to a massive exodus of sane people from what the Republican Party has become. Devising messages that will appeal to all parts of the Democrats’ ideological spectrum–a spectum that spans from relatively conservative GOP refugees all the way to the Democrats who think AOC and Bernie Sanders are insufficiently liberal–isn’t a simple exercise in clever PR.

There is another challenge to the strategists trying to devise messaging that will appeal to “ordinary Americans” who don’t read the New York Times or accept the scientific consensus on climate change or COVID. As those of us who count ourselves among those refugees (in my case, a long-time defector) can attest, there is no messaging that will penetrate the faith-based  cult that is  today’s GOP. Today’s Republican Party is owned by White Christian Nationalists who cheered for Trump and Putin because they were champions for their version of Christianity–pro-patriarchy, anti-LGBTQ, anti-“woke,” etc. They aren’t going to respond to messages from a point of view that is entirely inconsistent with their  hysterical effort to reinstate cultural dominance.

That leaves “messaging” directed to the dwindling numbers of “persuadable.”  I agree that it would be worthwhile to find an approach that would  appeal to those individuals–but I will also point out that any effort to craft such messages should be preceded by research into the reason(s) for their current status. Are they disconnected and disinterested? Disgusted by today’s political reality and loss of civility? Uninformed? All of the above?

I am by no means intending to diminish the importance of messaging. Words matter, and they matter a lot. But given where we are right now–given the substitution of a semi-religious cult for one of our only two major parties–I’d suggest putting all of our resources into  messages and volunteer efforts focused on turning out the substantial majority of voters who already are in broad agreement with Democratic priorities. Polling consistently shows that the elements of Biden’s Build Back Better, for example, are widely popular.

We just have to remember that–given the multiple political and psychological barriers to casting a ballot–messages alone will not get voters to the polls.

And as Paul Ogden periodically reminds us, we also need to make sure that the people counting the votes of those we do turn out are counting them accurately.

 

Diagnosing Democracy’s Illness

A few days ago, I was in a small meeting devoted to civic education. Attendees included some very smart, very savvy individuals, all of whom were veterans of the longstanding effort to increase civic knowledge and civic literacy. But when the individual who had convened this particular group asked what should have been a simple question, we were all stumped.

The question was: why are so many Americans uninterested in voting?

She might as well have asked why so many Americans are uninterested in democracy.

There were, as always, several theories: some of us felt that disinterest was due to a lack of understanding of what government does, and the multiple ways in which its operations affect our daily lives. Others noted that–for the millions of people barely scraping by–the daily struggle for survival leaves little time or energy for political involvement.

Perhaps the culprit is the culture, and the distractions provided by entertainment and celebrity. Or perhaps there’s something to my longtime theory that  gerrymandering has produced so many “safe” seats, it has convinced significant numbers of citizens that their votes won’t count, so why bother? It’s all rigged against them anyway, and taking time to inform oneself and cast a ballot would simply be time spent doing a useless thing.

Of course, even people who would otherwise vote continue to encounter practical barriers to exercise of the franchise. America makes it hard to vote, and Indiana is among the worst: our polls close earlier than those of all but one other state.

In 2020, FiveThirtyEight.com considered the question.

In any given election, between 35 and 60 percent of eligible voters don’t cast a ballot. It’s not that hard to understand why. Our system doesn’t make it particularly easy to vote, and the decision to carve out a few hours to cast a ballot requires a sense of motivation that’s hard for some Americans to muster every two or four years — enthusiasm about the candidates, belief in the importance of voting itself, a sense that anything can change as the result of a single vote.

The site conducted a poll, and found that the answer to the question who votes — and who doesn’t — is complex, and that most Americans don’t fall neatly into any one category.

Of the 8,000-plus people we polled, we were able to match nearly 6,000 to their voting history. We analyzed the views of the respondents in that slightly smaller group, and found that they fell into three broad groups: 1) people who almost always vote; 2) people who sometimes vote; and 3) people who rarely or never vote. People who sometimes vote were a plurality of the group (44 percent), while 31 percent nearly always cast a ballot and just 25 percent almost never vote….there weren’t huge differences between people who vote almost all the time and those who vote less consistently. Yes, those who voted more regularly were higher income, more educated, more likely to be white and more likely to identify with one of the two political parties, but those who only vote some of the time were also fairly highly educated and white, and not overwhelmingly young. There were much bigger differences between people who sometimes vote and those who almost never vote.

Nonvoters were more likely to have lower incomes; to be young; to have lower levels of education; and to say they don’t belong to either political party, which are all traits that square with what we know about people less likely to engage with the political system.

Getting people to the polls is pretty daunting–especially in Indiana, which routinely ranks at the bottom for measures of engagement and turnout. But the small contingent of civic educators continues to try…

Among that contingent is Bill Moreau, who established the Indiana Citizen a couple of years ago. It’s sort of a one-stop shop for electoral information –how to register, where to vote, and other practical information–but also a place to find the sorts of nonpartisan reporting that allows readers to cast an informed vote. What is Indiana’s legislature doing now, and why? Why can’t Hoosiers get redistricting reforms passed? How will this year’s gerrymandering affect me? Who’s running for what, and what are their policy proposals?

We used to turn to local newspapers for this sort of coverage, but–as I constantly complain–the pathetic remnants of those papers no longer provide the coverage that a democratic polity requires. The Indiana Citizen is among the various credible websites trying to fill the gap left by what we now call “the legacy press”–but of course, in order to fill that gap, people need to know it’s there–and that’s a significant barrier to overcome.

If you are a Hoosier, check it out. Tell your friends. And vote.

 

Just F**king Vote!

Some of you who have been regular readers of this blog know that one of my sons is a web developer.

Recognizing that turnout is far and away the most important aspect of the upcoming midterms–and believing, as his mother does, that these will be the most consequential American elections in a very long time–he and a couple of friends have developed a very simple, free application that allows people to check their registration status (and register if necessary), find their polling place, preview their ballots and more.

Here’s his description:

The Just Go Vote! app makes it easy to find all the information you need to be able to vote. You can check your registration and register, download a calendar of important election related dates, find your polling place, see your upcoming ballot choices and get an absentee ballot, and view a list of your representatives. To protect your privacy, there is no account sign up for this app. You enter info only to find what you need to vote, and it will be deleted if you delete the app.

Liz, Greg and I have worked really hard over the past few weeks to make this a reality. We agree that there is nothing more important at this moment than the mid-term elections, and to that end we wanted to make something that would help the millions of people who are eligible to vote, but who for whatever reason were unable to last time.

Please download the app, use it, and share it far and wide. Democracy does not work without participation. The Republican strategy of making it ever more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote has been working quite well for them. This app is our attempt to fight back and make it as easy as possible for people to participate in our democracy. If we move even a small percentage of voters who did not vote last time, we can easily take back our government and change our world for the better.

The app will shortly be available in the iOS App Store and in the Google Play Store, and it is already available as both a website and a PWA (progressive web app, just add it to your home screen) by simply visiting our site at https://justgovote.org

Thanks!!

I think the best thing about this app is how absolutely SIMPLE it is to use, even for non-techie, easily confused old folks (like his mother) who didn’t grow up in a digital world. Take a look–and spread the word far and wide.

If this simple tool helps to motivate even a few people per precinct who didn’t vote in 2016, it could make a huge difference.

Commenters to this blog have widely varied opinions about the economy, education, the reasons Trump won, what each of us should be doing about the country’s perilous situation, and much else–but I think everyone agrees on the importance of turning out the millions of eligible citizens who didn’t bother voting in November of 2016.

Here’s one thing we can all agree to do, and my kid has made it easy: DISTRIBUTE JUST GO VOTE!

Rerun

Facebook has a feature dubbed “your memories.” A couple of days ago, it reminded me of a blog I posted a year ago about voter turnout. I have never repeated a post before, but as we count down to critically important May and November elections, I think this one is worth re-running. (It was titled, “It’s The Turnout, Stupid!”)

_____________________

Do references to “President” Trump make you wonder how we ended up with a Congress and an Administration so wildly at odds with what survey research tells us the majority of Americans want?

This paragraph from a recent Vox article really says it all:

A general poll doesn’t reflect voters very much anymore. A general poll would have had Donald Trump losing substantially and the Democrats winning the House. About 45 percent of people in general polls don’t vote at all. What you saw in the election was that Republican voters came out at a very high rate. They got high turnout from non-minority people from small towns.

There are multiple reasons people fail to vote. There is, of course, deliberate suppression via “Voter ID” laws , restrictions of early voting periods and purposely inconvenient placement of polling places.

Gerrymandering, as I have pointed out numerous times before, is a major disincentive; why go to the polls when the overwhelming  number of contests aren’t really contested?

And of course, there are the holdover mechanisms from days when transportation and communication technologies were very different–state, rather than national control of everything from registration to the hours the polls are open, voting on a Tuesday, when most of us have to work, rather than on a weekend or a day designated as a national holiday, etc.

The Vox paragraph illustrates the repeated and frustrating phenomenon of widespread public antagonism to proposed legislation that nevertheless passes easily, or support for measures that repeatedly fail. If vote totals equaled poll results–that is, if everyone who responded to an opinion survey voted–our political environment would be dramatically different.

Americans being who we are, we are extremely unlikely to require voting, as they do in Australia. (Those who fail to cast a ballot pay a fine.) We can’t even pass measures to make voting easier. I personally favor “vote by mail” systems like the ones in Oregon and Washington State; thay save taxpayer dollars, deter (already minuscule) voter fraud, and increase turnout. They also give voters time to research ballot issues in order to cast informed votes. (Informed votes! What a thought….)

If the millions of Americans who have been energized (okay, enraged) by Trump’s election want to really turn things around, the single most important thing they can do is register people who have not previously voted, and follow up by doing whatever it takes to get them to cast ballots.

Voter ID laws a problem? Be sure everyone you register has ID. Polls and times inconvenient? Help them vote early or drive them to their polling place.

Gerrymandering a disincentive? First make sure that someone is opposing every incumbent, no matter how lopsided the district, and then help people who haven’t previously voted get to the polls. Those gerrymandered district lines are based upon prior turnout statistics; on how people who voted in that district previously cast their ballots. If even half of those who have been non-voters started going to the polls, a lot of so-called “safe” districts wouldn’t be so safe.

Not voting, it turns out, is a vote for the status quo. There are a lot of Americans who are cynical and dissatisfied with the status quo who don’t realize that the plutocrats and autocrats they criticize are enabled by–and counting on– their continued lack of involvement.

If everyone who has found his or her inner activist would pledge to find and register three to five people who haven’t previously voted, and do what it takes to get them to the polls, it would change America.

A Political “To Do” List

Pretty much everyone I know is absolutely obsessed with this bizarre Presidential race. In one sense, that’s good—people paying attention are unlikely to break for Trump. But the intense focus on the national race means that the 2016 down-ticket elections aren’t getting the attention they deserve—not just the Senate, which is critically important, but also the House and especially state-level offices. A decent-sized Hillary victory is likely to tip the Senate. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is: If Hillary wins big, could Democrats take the House?

Conventional wisdom says no. After the 2010 census, Republicans dominated state governments in a significant majority of states, and they engaged in one of the most thorough, most strategic, most competent gerrymanderings in history. If you have not read the book “Ratfucked”—buy it and read it. (And yes, that’s the real name of the book.) The 2011 gerrymander did two things: as the GOP intended, it gave Republicans 247 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats’ 186. That’s a 61 vote margin– despite the fact that nationally, Democratic House candidates received over a million more votes than Republican House candidates.

But that gerrymander did something else; it destroyed Republican party discipline. It created and empowered the 80+ Republican Representatives who comprise what has been called the “lunatic caucus” and made it virtually impossible to govern. That unintended consequence has now come back to haunt the GOP and frustrate the rest of us.

The structural advantage created by the gerrymander was big enough to put the House out of reach for Democrats in any normal Presidential year. But this is not a normal Presidential year.

The author of “Ratfucked,” says that GOP control of the House was designed to withstand a Presidential-year loss “up to and including” 5% nationally. If Hillary Clinton were to win by more than 5%, Democrats could theoretically swing enough seats to control the House. Obviously, that depends on turnout, on the political culture of various districts, and on the quality of individual candidates, but theoretically, at least, it’s do-able.

As endlessly fascinating as the current electoral horse-races are, we need to pay more attention to the systemic problems that are at the root of our increasingly undemocratic electoral system; if we don’t address those, we will never regain a level playing field, and there will be no incentive for the Republican Party to grow up and abandon its current reliance on appeals to racial grievance. Both America and the Democratic Party need an adult, responsible center-right opposition.

Gerrymandering is the practice of partisan redistricting. The desired outcome is as many safe districts as possible: Pack as many members of the opposition party into as few districts as possible, and create less-lopsided but also safe districts for the party in charge.

Safe districts breed voter apathy and reduce political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why volunteer or vote, when it doesn’t matter?

It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. The result is that in many of these races, voters are left with no meaningful choice.  We hear a lot about voter apathy, as if it were a moral deficiency. Political scientists suggest that it may instead be a highly rational response to noncompetitive politics. People save their efforts for places where those efforts count, and thanks to the increasing lack of competitiveness in our electoral system, those places may NOT include the voting booth.

In a safe district, the only effective way to oppose an incumbent is in the primary–and that generally means that the challenge will come from the “flank” or extreme. In competitive districts, nominees know that they have to run to the middle in order to win a general election. When the primary is, in effect, the general election, the battle takes place among the party faithful, who also tend to be the most ideological voters. So Republican incumbents will be challenged from the Right and Democratic incumbents will be attacked from the Left. Even when those challenges fail, they leave a powerful incentive for the incumbent to placate the most rigid elements of each party. Instead of the system working as intended,  we get nominees who represent the most extreme voters on each side.

Lawmakers who are elected from safe deep-red or deep-blue seats respond almost exclusively to incentives from their districts. They are perfectly willing to ignore their party’s leadership if they think that will get them points back home, or help them avert a primary challenge. As a result, the ability to demand party discipline is a thing of the past. (Just ask John Boehner or Paul Ryan, if you don’t believe me.)

Even worse– reduced participation in the political process, and the feeling that the system has been rigged, diminishes the legitimacy of subsequent government action. Is a Representative truly representative when he/she is elected by 10% or 20% of the eligible voters in the district?

It isn’t just gerrymandering. Money in politics has always been a problem; Citizens United unleashed torrents of dark money, prompted the creation of SuperPacs, and added to the perception that America is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy.

Particularly worrisome, at least to me, are the persistent efforts to suppress the vote of likely Democratic constituencies. Indiana has the dubious distinction of being the first state to pass a voter ID law. Voter ID, as you know, was justified as a measure to prevent in-person voting fraud—a type of vote fraud that is virtually non-existent. Voter ID laws are really intended to discourage poor people and people of color from voting.

The Voter ID law recently struck down in North Carolina is a case in point: as the court noted, photo IDs most used by African Americans, including public assistance IDs, were removed from the list of acceptable identification, while IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles—which blacks are less likely to have—were retained. Cutting the first week of early voting came in reaction to data showing that the first seven days were used by large numbers of black voters. Other changes made voting harder for people who had recently moved, and blacks move more often than whites.

Indiana not only has Voter ID, we are also one of only two states where the polls close at six, making it more difficult for working people to cast a ballot. We need to change these and other systemic disincentives to democratic participation.

  • We need to work for a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United.
  • We need to establish election day as a national holiday.
  • We need to work for redistricting reform, so that voters choose their representatives instead of allowing Representatives to choose their voters.
  • We should also look at alternatives to the way we conduct primaries, and
  • We need to investigate ways to mitigate the effects of residential sorting.

All of those reforms would help reinvigorate American democracy.

Of course, if Donald Trump becomes President, none of that will matter. The world as we know it won’t be the world as we know it; Canada will probably build the wall and pay for it, and I plan to volunteer for that mission to colonize Mars.