Tag Archives: turnout

Pins And Needles

To subscribers who received these introductory paragraphs  yesterday–accidental “pre-post.”  Sorry.

I will be honest–the last several weeks have been painful. Initially, I devoured political news and punditry, but for the past couple of weeks, I’ve even avoided most of the news–including financial updates and coverage of the sort of policy debates that usually engages nerds like yours truly.

Because–let’s be candid–what difference will any of it make if we lose our chance to build the America I’ve inhabited mentally for these many years.

I don’t want to hear from the nay-sayers and holier-than-thou-ers who will predictably lecture me on the multiple ways in which America the Country has routinely failed to live up to the America of my goals and aspirations. I know that history–but even at its worst, it hardly justifies handing the country over to the drooling haters, know-nothings, QAnon believers and (perhaps worst of all) the otherwise “nice” people who never bothered to learn about or follow government and politics and so mindlessly continue to cast their ballots (if they bother to do so) for a GOP that no longer exists.

All this is by way of explaining the dread leading up to an “after the votes are counted” post. Of course, votes are still being counted…

So–as of today, what do we know?

Well, for one thing, we know that the predicted “Red Wave” failed to materialize. (Unfortunately, so did the Blue Tsunami I was hoping for, but that was admittedly a pie in the sky hope.) Virtually all the headlines I saw yesterday focused on the failure of the GOP to make the gains they’d confidently predicted.

Red Wave? Nah–pink puddle.

Paul Ogden really nailed it in his comment yesterday. After detailing the headwinds Democrats faced, he wrote “I can’t begin to tell you how historic yesterday’s election was.  It’s never happened before where the party in power does so well in  a mid-term despite horrible numbers going into the election.”

Robert Hubbell echoed that conclusion in his daily newsletter, writing that preventing the anticipated Red Wave was “no small thing.” Democrats battled gerrymandering, “a slew of voter suppression laws, inflation at a 40-year high, a sustained disinformation campaign against democracy, and low presidential favorability ratings. Despite all that, they made a strong showing that should give Republicans pause for the next two years.”

What should give Republicans pause and what will give Republicans pause, of course, are two very different things. That said, the pundits who confidently predicted that concerns about inflation would overwhelm fury about abortion were proven wrong– at least according to exit polls. Voters reported that the two issues were fairly even motivators. (Hmm…a temporary rise in the price of eggs versus loss of a fundamental right to personal autonomy…sure, those seem roughly equivalent. Not.)

In the five states where abortion rights were on the ballot, voters massively supported those rights. Even in Kentucky!

Here in my deep Red state of Indiana, the election denying, sexual assaulting, incompetent (and arguably criminal) candidate with an R next to his name won his election for Secretary of State, and will be in charge of the election in 2024 if he hasn’t been arrested before that. (In non-urban areas of Indiana, it takes more than stupidity and criminal behavior to defeat a Republican.Even in suburbs that are slowly turning purple, regressive culture-war candidates for Congress and school boards eked out depressing wins.)

In urban areas of the state, however, sanity mostly prevailed. Indianapolis’ incumbent Prosecutor won handily, and we re-elected our highly competent, legislatively-skilled and all-around nice guy Congressman, Andre Carson. In Northwest Indiana, where Republicans had mounted a challenge to the first-term Democratic Congressman, the Democrat prevailed.

What is abundantly clear is that America is conducting something approximating a civil war between Blue cities and the Red states in which they are located.

The bottom line–if there is such a line–seems to be that neither party delivered a knock-out punch. Those of us who want to elect candidates who are actually interested in governing–on addressing the thorny policy issues we face at the local, state and federal levels–will have to contend with at least two years of gridlock (at best) and sustained culture war  waged by would-be autocrats(at worst).

The good news is: we lived to fight another day…

 

Messaging

As the midterms get closer, the punditry gets more predictable. For the past several weeks, not a day has gone by without at least one column–usually more– bemoaning the Democratic Party’s lack of effective messaging.

To which I say bull-feathers.

The problem with “messaging” isn’t that candidates aren’t choosing to emphasize arguments likely to move voters; the problem is the civic ignorance of those voters and the siloed information environments they inhabit.

Take inflation. Republicans are convinced that an emphasis on inflation is a winner for the GOP, and they may well be right. If they are, it will be because the average voter has absolutely no understanding of economics–and is totally unaware that inflation is currently a global phenomenon (much worse elsewhere, actually) with multiple causes.

Progressives have been pointing to several of those causes–“messaging” about the effect of the war in Ukraine, the Saudi’s outrageous decision to cut production so as to raise gas prices (a transparent effort to help Putin by helping Trump’s MAGA base), the persistence of pandemic supply chain problems, and a healthy dose of corporate greed.

That last item has led to calls by some economists for a one-time windfall profits tax–but again, how many American voters understand how price gouging  occurs, or what a windfall tax is or does?

American voters have historically blamed the President–no matter who is in office and no matter what his party–for economic conditions a President cannot and does not control. Those voters have historically gone to the polls in midterm elections and ousted members of the President’s party–despite the fact that the opposing party is generally offering zero credible policies to address the economic problem of the moment.

Right now, the GOP’s proposal to “fix” inflation is to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare, and  stop supplying arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. How many voters know that, or are aware of the various statements to that effect made by Republican members of the House and Senate?

For that matter, how many voters understand how the filibuster works, and how its deployment by the GOP has doomed popular legislation?

Until the most recent session of the U.S. Supreme Court, few voters understood the connection between the politics of the Senate majority and the placement of qualified jurists on that Court. (Most still don’t understand how we got the current, highly politicized and retrograde Court majority.)

A number of the pundits decrying the inadequacy of Democratic messaging are convinced that the upcoming election is about saving American democracy–a point with which I agree–and that effective messaging should focus on that threat. They never seem to explain just how they would address the loss of American democracy in those 30-second TV ads or glossy mailed flyers.

If American voters understood how our government is supposed to work–if they all knew, for example, that we have three branches of government (a fact that was evidently a revelation to Tommy Tuberville, elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama presumably because he was a good athlete), and how those branches are supposed to operate, perhaps it would be possible to make the case in a way that would resonate with those voters. Without that public understanding, Democrats (and disaffected Republicans like Liz Cheney) are reduced to making the accusation–and an accusation is not an explanation.

For that matter, even excellent messaging must be heard to be effective.

If American voters all tuned in to the same media outlets, it might be possible to educate them about these matters, but of course, they don’t. Democratic messaging–no matter how brilliant–isn’t likely to reach the legions of voters glued to Fox News and its clones.

What do American voters know?

Most know that an illegitimate Supreme Court has–for the first time in American history–withdrawn a constitutional right. Most know that the right to reproductive autonomy is critical to women’s health and equality, and a significant number know that Republicans are very likely to continue to chip away at other rights previously protected by the constitutional right to privacy.

Some portion of the electorate knows that the President doesn’t control gas prices,  and that Republicans will continue their assault on the social safety net.  Growing numbers recognize that the MAGA movement is dangerous; they may not be able to define fascism but–like pornography– they know it when they see it.

Will what American voters do know be enough to upend the history of midterm elections–a history that favors the party not currently in control of the White House? Will what they do understand motivate sufficient numbers to turn out to VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO?

I guess we’ll find out.

 

 

Getting Out The Vote

Several years ago,  my husband and I took a week-long cruise on a small boat that accommodated only eleven passengers. One of those eleven, as it happened, was a retired professor of public administration from Australia, and we had several fascinating exchanges about policy differences between our two countries.

One of those differences involved elections.

In Australia, the law requires  that every citizen vote. I initially recoiled at that suggestion; surely, people too disinterested to go to the polls  unless required to do so would cast uninformed ballots…but the more I thought about  it, the more Australia’s system appealed to me.

Many democratic countries evidently require people to vote, and fine those who don’t.  (Actually, as I understand it, what is mandatory is appearance at the polls. In many systems, there is apparently something akin to a “none of the above” option that will fulfill the legal obligation.)

Requiring citizens to vote would help ensure that election results mirror the preferences of the entire population, not just those sufficiently motivated to express those preferences at the polls. At least some percentage of the currently disengaged would take more interest in government and politics–knowing that they would have to cast a ballot, at least some Americans might make an effort to know something about the people on that ballot and (gasp!) even the system within which they aspire to operate.

Arguably, universal turnout would require candidates to craft more inclusive messages, since targeting an ideological sliver would no longer be the path to victory. (Targeting one’s base is one reason for our currently polarized politics.) Candidates and parties would also save a lot of money and effort currently spent on get out the vote efforts.

So what are the cons, the arguments against mandatory voting?

Requiring people to vote would assure the participation of low-interest, arguably uninformed people, “alphabet voters” who would simply check a box in order to avoid a fine. (You can lead a voter to the polls, but you can’t force him to think.) Even a token fine would fall most heavily on the poor and disadvantaged–the very people who have difficulty getting to the polls in our current system.

At least one scholar has suggested that–rather than making voting mandatory (which America will do when pigs fly)–we should work to make elections more competitive, because turnout increases when voters have meaningful choices. Gerrymandering currently makes that solution untenable.

Gerrymandering is also a huge disincentive to voting; when you are convinced your vote won’t count, you are understandably less likely to make the effort. And because Republicans have been far more successful in gerrymandering (not that Democrats don’t try–they just aren’t nearly as good at it), the people who are least likely to vote are the people most likely to vote Democratic.

A recent study of turnout should be filed under “read it and weep.”

A new study from BYU and the University of Virginia analyzed 400 million voter records from elections in 2014 and 2016 and found that minority citizens, young people, and those who support the Democratic Party are much less likely to vote than whites, older citizens, and Republican Party supporters. Moreover, those in the former groups were also more likely to live in areas where their neighbors are less likely to vote.

“We’re finding that the circumstances of other citizens who live around you plays an important role in voter turnout,” said Dr. Michael Barber, BYU professor of political science and co-author of the study. “Much of the country is segregated—especially by race and partisanship. Minorities are more likely to live around other minorities who are also less likely to vote. The same is true of voters of both parties. These patterns can create a situation that results in persistent patterns of lower turnout in certain communities for a variety of reasons.”

The study found that, in 2016, White citizens voted at a rate of between 9 and 15 percentage points higher than Black citizens, Asian citizens, and Hispanic citizens. In 2014, the gaps were even higher, with Whites voting at a rate 9 to 18 percentage points higher than minority groups. There were similar gaps in political party turnout, with Republicans  more likely to vote than Democrats.

Unsurprising but depressing, the data also confirmed that the voting rate of citizens 60 years old or older was roughly 40 percentage points higher than that of citizens 30 years old or younger.

If those demographic gaps in turnout narrowed–or, with mandatory voting, disappeared– a significant number of districts that have been gerrymandered by partisans would no longer be safe–after all, the people drawing district lines must depend upon previous turnout data. They have no way of knowing the political preferences of the people who didn’t bother to vote.

Increased turnout could save American democracy.

 

Voter Turnout

A good friend and former colleague of mine moved back to Canada a few years ago, to accept a prestigious position. (I say “back” because he was originally from Canada. He’d married a U.S.Citizen, obtained joint citizenship, and for many years was a highly respected bioethicist at U.S. institutions of higher education.) We continue to correspond, and in the wake of Canada’s recent election, he sent me a column from a Canadian newspaper, bemoaning that election’s low turnout.

He also sent the results of a Google search for turnout percentages in both the U.S. and Canada. (You know what’s coming, don’t you??) Here’s a portion of his message:

I did find it charming that the article bemoaning low Canadian turnout (which this year was a historical low at ~58%) is still significantly higher than in the US. 
 
Apart from the Trump v Hilary election in 2016 when it was 50%, the last time US voter turnout was above 50% was in 1912 if I am reading the charts correctly. 
 
Worth pondering, eh?

The newspaper article quoted Canadian political observers on the possible reasons for what the Canadians considered “depressed” turnout. The pandemic was one possibility, and attitudes about the need for this particular election were also mentioned. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

“We’ve historically had really high trust in our democratic institutions, in our election process … and I think that the challenges that they faced in this election are going to take some time to rebuild confidence in our elections.”

That prompted me to consider just where we are in today’s U.S. If turnout depends upon trust in the integrity of the electoral system, what can we expect in the wake of the GOP’s Trumpian assault on that integrity?

If a decision to vote requires trust– trust that one’s vote will count, trust that the election is being honestly run, trust that there is a meaningful difference between the candidates for office, trust that the people who’ve earned your vote will do their best to follow through on their promised agendas–what happens when a significant portion of the GOP believes, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that voter fraud is rampant and the 2020 election was rigged?

It isn’t just trust in the administration of elections–trust in government has been steadily ebbing in the US. The evidence goes well beyond our pathetic voter turnout figures. If that meant that we could count on a direct correspondence between low turnout and the distrust that has led to virulently anti-government sentiment, we might expect a lot of Republicans to stay home in 2022 and 2024 (and from my perspective, that would be a very good thing).

But of course, it’s never that simple.

One of the regular readers of this blog sent me a You Tube interview between a scholar with the Humphrey School of the University of Minnesota and  Stan Greenberg, the former Yale professor who’s been a Democratic pollster pretty much forever. Greenberg explained Trump’s 2016 win by pointing out that his racist appeal had generated turnout from people who’d never before voted—and according to his research, those previous non-voters remain engaged.

Evidently, they do have trust–trust that the current iteration of the GOP will protect White Christian dominance.

One of the oldest and truest rules of politics is that turnout is everything. It doesn’t matter how many Americans agree with party A or party B–as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

The only way to ensure robust turnout of voters for what is currently the only sane party is for the Democrats to pass their agenda–especially the expansive infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill–and demonstrate that government can work, that Democrats can be trusted, that the right to participate in democratic deliberation via the ballot box can be protected.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Democrats are right about everything, only that they are currently the only sane option. We are truly at an inflection point, and constitutional government is in the cross-hairs.

Meanwhile, the Earth keeps warming, the GOP is now entirely the party of the batshit crazies, and I am very afraid that the Democrats will be unable to control their circular firing squad.

The world my grandchildren will inherit looks very scary….

 

 

This S**t’s Getting Real

Okay–as multiple sources have now reported, Donald Trump is refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he should lose.

For months now, Democrats have warned and worried about the prospect of Trump simply  rejecting election results and proclaiming himself the winner– regardless of the vote tally. There have been credible reports of mail slowdowns, enlistment of “volunteers” prepared to intimidate voters at the polls, and similar suppression tactics.

Now, a carefully-researched article from the  Atlantic has raised the stakes.

Barton Gellman writes that the Trump team is creating a plan to “work around” those pesky actual  vote results in battleground states. If Biden wins a Red swing state,  its GOP-run state legislature would announce that the vote was tainted and appoint Republican electors instead of the Democratic electors who won. (They would insist they were protecting the will of the people from those who were trying to rig an election.)

There’s a lot more detail, but such shenanigans would undoubtedly spawn litigation that would end up at the Supreme Court. Which explains the GOP’s frantic effort to confirm a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg right away.

 The New Yorker is one of several outlets reporting on Trump’s admission of that motive:

One thing you cannot accuse Donald Trump of is trying to disguise his nefarious intentions. For months now, legal experts and Democratic campaign officials have warned that he may reject the results of this year’s election and pronounce himself the victor regardless of the vote tally. On Tuesday, Trump virtually confirmed that this is his plan. He also indicated that rushing through the appointment of another conservative to the Supreme Court is a key element of his strategy to stay in the White House.

The only thing that can short-circuit Trump’s subversion of American democracy is an absolutely massive turnout for Democrats on Election Day. That’s why my husband and I will mask up and vote early. That’s also why my youngest son just sent a contribution to “We Got The Vote” This is the organization raising money to pay off the fines of former felons in Florida so that they can vote in this election.

As most of you reading this probably know, in a Florida referendum, voters approved a change of law to allow former felons to vote. Republicans who control the Florida legislature and Florida’s despicable  Governor refused to implement the mandated change, passing a measure that prevents ex-felons from voting until they pay off whatever fines they still owe .(Can we spell “poll tax”?) This is particularly egregious because not only are many ex-offenders unable to raise that money, the State of Florida doesn’t have the institutional capacity to tell them what they owe.

The organization “We Got the Vote” is raising money to pay off fines so ex-felons can vote. (As a nice “reward” for sending them money, they are a tax-exempt nonprofit, so donations are fully tax deductible.unlike political donations.)

Michael Bloomberg’s political operation recently raised more than $16 million from supporters and foundations to pay the court fines and fees for more than 30,000 Black and Latino voters in Florida with felonies, allowing them to vote in the upcoming election–and the Republican AG immediately launched an “investigation,” citing “potential election law violations.”

That donation didn’t constitute a violation of anything other than GOP electoral prospects, but as my son pointed out, that $16 million was only enough to cover some 32,000 voters– out of an estimated 700,000. Since Florida votes are going to be critically important this year–Trump can’t win without Florida–this seems like a good investment for those of us trying to increase turnout.

And turnout is definitely the name of the game this year. COVID or no COVID, Americans need to vote early. In states that count absentee ballots before Election Day–a list of states that doesn’t include Indiana–that means getting those ballots in ASAP. In places like Indiana that don’t start counting mailed-in ballots until Election Day, we need to put on our masks and find an early-voting site.

The only thing that will defeat the intended theft of this election is massive blue turnout.