next time somebody chastises you for not voting, offer to sell them your vote. If they really believe it’s so god damn important and valuable, and that their candidate is so great and wonderful, they should jump at the opportunity.
A good topic to research, if possible, would be “why people don’t vote.” Nonvoting is very high, roughly 50 percent, even in presidential elections—much higher in others. The attitudes of people who don’t vote are studied. First of all, they mostly identify themselves as Democrats. And if you look at their attitudes, they are mostly Social Democratic. They want jobs, they want benefits, they want the government to be involved in social services and so on, but they don’t vote, partly, I suppose, because of the impediments to voting. It’s not a big secret. Republicans try really hard to prevent people from voting, because the more that people vote, the more trouble they are in. There are other reasons why people don’t vote. I suspect, but don’t know how to prove, that part of the reason people don’t vote is they just know their votes don’t make any difference, so why make the effort? So you end up with a kind of plutocracy in which the public opinion doesn’t matter much. It is not unlike other countries in this respect, but more extreme. All along, it’s more extreme. So yes, there is a constant class war going on.
Who are the 63.7% of the population who didn’t vote in mid-term elections this year? That’s the highest percentage of people to sit on their hands on election day since 1942, when poll taxes and voting restrictions prevented a significant part of our population—all Afro-American—from voting throughout the South and in other parts of the country.
I want to sort out the nonvoters, not demographically, but by the reasons they didn’t vote. The Internet is full of chatter about why people stayed home, in most cases giving undue weight to the one element that proved whatever point they were trying to make. I haven’t seen a survey, but I’m sure that significant numbers of citizens didn’t vote for the reason I’m about to discuss.
Let’s start with the slew of state laws that make it harder to vote because they shorten the voting period, make it harder to register, require more documents to register or require identification to vote. Certainly some part of the difference in the percentage of voters from this election and the mid-term four years ago stems from the fact that it was harder to register and to cast a ballot in many states. But in 2010, an enormous 58.2% of all eligible voters exercised their right to stay home from the polls. If we take a broad axe to this data, we come up with an explanation of why about 5.5% of the eligible voters stayed home: because new voting laws restrained or kept them from voting, a handsome price to pay indeed to try (emphasis on “try”) to prevent a repeat of the less than ten cases of voter fraud that have occurred across the nation over the past 30 years.
But what about the other 58.2% of the eligible who didn’t vote? Why did they stay home? Here are the standard impediments to voting:
Was ill: Some number of voters always miss voting because they happen to be ill that day or have long-term illnesses that affect their ability to make voting decisions.
Couldn’t get off work: It’s criminal that all employers of all sizes aren’t required to give citizens three hours to vote on election day. Keep in mind, though, that a goodly number of those who couldn’t get time to vote lost options for early voting because of new laws limiting it.
Disillusioned by the system: These people figure that it’s a fixed game and they just don’t want to play. It’s very difficult to argue with the disillusioned, especially given the record of the last 35 years in which our elected officials have repeatedly enacted laws and policies that harm 99% of the population but help the super-wealthy and large corporations. On the other hand, this year’s referenda favoring higher minimum wages passed in every municipality given the chance to vote on the issue. To a great extent, then, the disillusioned are perpetuating their own chagrin by not voting.
Never votes in nonpresidential years: It’s an enormous group. Over the past two presidential elections, an average of 40.1% of eligible voters stayed home; during the last two off-years, 60.95% of voters stayed home. Using a blunt axe again, that computes to a little over one fifth (20%) of all eligible voters who only vote in presidential years.
Have never voted: Say what you will about poverty, a lack of education, language barriers and upbringing, the mass media barrages us with so much information about elections, that it’s very hard not to blame those who have never voted—they are hurting themselves, and they are hurting others. Of course, a conservative of the Platonic or Burkean ilk would say that it hurts the body politic when uneducated or unprepared people vote (which for most of recorded history has meant those without property). I can’t agree with their logic. But when I’m wishing for laws that make it easier to vote and media that cover the real issues, I also wish for an electorate that believed more in civic virtues such as voting (plus serving on jury duty and whistle-blowing).
Those who are disillusioned, only vote for President or have never voted don’t realize how much power they could potentially wield. Here’s why: Most votes are extremely close, and that was certainly the case in 2014. In fact, virtually all newspaper reports, opinion pieces and think-tank whitepapers since the beginning of the republic have labeled as a “landslide” every election in which one candidate receives 53% of the vote. Of course, the news media and their owners have a vested interest in maintaining overall political stability, which is why the bar is set so low for landslides. For most of the ruling elite, having a stable election that produces a consensus is more important than who actually wins; especially nowadays when candidates of both parties feed so luxuriously at the troughs of big and often shadowy donors.
Think of it, though. More eligible voters stayed home this year than the number of voters it would take to declare a landslide in favor of a candidate.
It’s a shameful record.
Yes, blame the Kochs and other right-wingers for bankrolling those who tell the lies they want the country to believe. Blame the news media for trivializing the election. Blame state legislatures for restrictive voting laws. Blame Obama for suddenly being so unlikeable (a new euphemism for Black).
A day in the life of Gene Tencza, November 3, 1996, in Orange, MA. Stills from [None of the Above raw #47] produced by Tom Weinberg and recorded by Skip Blumberg. Stills from inside the Maynard Machine Tool Company shop can be found in raw tape #50 and were recorded on November 4, 1996 in Ashburnham, MA.
None of the Above is a documentary produced during the 1996 presidential election campaign that focused on non-voters.
In my recent report, “Why Voting Matters,” I show the dramatic differences in opinion between voters and nonvoters, and argue that more voter turnout would lead to more progressive policies. One of the most dramatic gaps in opinion is between white voters and non-white nonvoters (shown below). As 2016 approaches, the question of how to mobilize the political power of people of color is increasingly being discussed with the rise of groups like Black Lives Matter. Though it’s clear that voter turnout will not be enough to fully realize political equality, it can have a dramatic influence on policy.
“Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is based on a simple theory: There is a reserve army of liberal voters who’ve sat out past elections but who stand ready to support a more stridently leftist Democratic nominee.
By getting these historic nonvoters to turn out, Sanders claims, he could win the general election, maybe take back the House and Senate, and have an organized public ready to pressure Congress to pass a democratic socialist agenda.
So far, this idea of a leftist political revolution has been widelydismissed as implausible by many liberal commentators — and I share a large part of their skepticism. But newresearch by Stanford political scientists Simon Jackman and Bradley Spahn has convinced me that at least one big part of it is correct: There really is a reasonably large segment of the American population that most political campaigns aren’t reaching.
It’s a segment that’s disproportionately black and Latino and decidedly more liberal than the American public as a whole. If they were turning out, it could conceivably push the American electorate to the left.
Does it matter that the wealthy turnout to vote at a rate of almost 99% while those making below $10,000 vote at a rate of 49%? It sure seems like it would, but for a long time many political scientists and journalists believed it didn’t. In their seminal 1980 study on the question (using data from 1972) Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone argued that, “voters are virtually a carbon copy of the citizen population.” In a 1999 study, Wolfinger and Benjamin Highton find a slightly larger gap between voters and nonvoters, but still conclude, “non-voters appear well represented by those who vote.”
Bernie Sanders can only win if nonvoters turn out at the polls, and they almost never do
All the projections that suggest Sanders can’t win the nomination and the election suppose that a large slice of his supporters (or people who would support him if they could be reached) just won’t bother to vote – and that’s a pretty save bet.
The scholarly and experimental work on registering non-voters and getting them to the polls shows that this is an incredibly hard problem that no one has any great solutions for. And yet, with so many non-voters in every Congressional district and every electoral race, every race is a toss-up if you include them in. Bringing out non-voters was behind some of the great political surprises of the past decade: Dean, Obama, Trump, Corbyn, etc.
The fact that we don’t know how to get nonvoters to the polls doesn’t mean Bernie can’t win: it means we know what Bernie has to do to win.Knowing is half the battle.