Tag Archives: voting

Really, NRA?

A friend recently sent me a questionnaire he’d received from the NRA, along with a fundraising appeal warning that the November elections will “threaten your gun rights,” and explaining that the organization needs your money in order to protect its “pro-freedom” agenda. (I wonder when they’ll explain why that “pro-freedom agenda” required that they collaborate with Russian operatives…but I digress.)

The letter also disses all those polls showing widespread public support for background checks and other modest gun-control measures. (“Fake news!”)

If there is one thing academic researchers and legitimate political pollsters know, it is that the way you frame survey questions is critical: if you are trying to obtain an accurate reading of the public pulse, questions cannot be suggestive or loaded.

Of course, if political candidates and advocacy organizations were interested in accurate results, they’d hire a reputable pollster. The “surveys” and “polls” we all receive from various candidates and organizations are transparent efforts to separate us from our money; they are intended to push our buttons, not inquire about our opinions.

And the NRA has mastered the art of button-pushing. A few examples:

“Do you agree with the politicians and Hollywood elites who say the NRA is a terrorist organization?”

“Do you support a sweeping ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns?”

“Should law-abiding Americans be forced to undergo a background check?”

“Should the federal government limit your ability to defend yourself and your family by banning magazines with more than 10 rounds?”

“Should the federal government be able to register and track all firearms in the U.S. and retain personal information about those who lawfully possess them?”

“Would you ever knowingly vote for a candidate for Congress who supports new anti-gun restrictions as part of his or her agenda?”

There’s more, of course, but these “poll questions” should give you a flavor of the rest.

Before you laugh at the transparency of these formulations or dismiss the obviousness of the propaganda, it may be worth thinking about the political psychology behind the choice of words employed in what was an expensive mailing. Remember, these “polls” go to NRA members (including the friend who shared this), not to the general public–and although reputable surveys suggest that the majority of those members are far more reasonable than the organization’s leadership, they are still likely to be favorably disposed to the NRA’s mission.

They aren’t likely to be favorably disposed to “Hollywood elites.” They are very likely to resent being called a terrorist organization.

The framing of the support/no support questions is patently dishonest, but very effective. Do you favor a “sweeping” ban? Do you want the government “forcing” “law-abiding” citizens to do anything? Surely you are already worried that the surveillance state is keeping tabs on everyone, and you don’t want them “retaining your personal information.”

I’m sure you are leery of Congressional candidates who make gun control part of an (obviously nefarious) “agenda.”

The big problem with special interest organizations like the NRA isn’t that they represent majority opinion. They don’t–not even close. They are effective because their issues are so salient to the minority of people who do agree with them. (This is also true of anti-choice  and other single-issue voters.)

Because they care deeply about their particular issue, (and generally, not about many–or any–others) they vote. Reliably. And as a result, they exercise far more influence than their numbers would otherwise entitle them to. That’s one reason why the recent arrest of a Russian operative who used the NRA as her conduit to the Trump Administration and  Republicans in Congress was so alarming.

My single issue in November is the defeat of Trump enablers. It’s pretty salient to me….

 

 

 

If Demographics Are Destiny…..

The most encouraging headline I’ve come across lately was on a Brookings Institution study titled “Trump Owns a Shrinking Republican Party.”

It’s worth remembering the central point of the study when we read that a majority of Republicans remain adamant in their support of Trump–that’s a majority of a smaller and smaller number of voters.

The opening paragraphs of the report confront the puzzle of Trump’s disinterest in what has typically been the first goal of political candidates and parties alike: expanding one’s base.

Most American presidents come into office seeking to expand their support beyond their most loyal voters. But among the many peculiarities of the Trump presidency is his lack of interest in expanding his base, a fact that is even more surprising for someone who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million and carried his key electoral college states by less than 100,000 votes. The story of Trump and his base has two sides.

The first “side” is what is most often reported: the devotion of Trump’s base. These are the people who would vote for him even if he shot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue, as he famously boasted.

Loyalty to Trump among the Republican base is looking so strong that it led Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a Trump critic who is not running again, to tell reporters “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?”

Indeed it is.  (As regular readers of this blog know–I have some fairly strong and not at all complimentary opinions about why people join that cult.)

The other “side” of the equation is the continuing erosion of party identification, especially Republican identification.

As the following graph of Gallup polls indicates, both political parties find themselves less popular now than they did in 2004 with a substantial rise in those who identify as independents. For the Democrats, party identification peaked in Obama’s first term and then dropped in his second term. For Republicans, party identification took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump’s election.

How can we explain what looks to be a long-term decline for the Republican brand? Age, for one thing. From the beginning of the Trump administration the oldest Americans, those aged 50 and over, have consistently given Trump his highest approval ratings while young people aged 18–29 have consistently given him his lowest approval ratings.

The study concludes–not unreasonably–that a political party unable to attract young people, especially when a generation is as big as the Millennial generation, is not a party with a very bright future.

But it isn’t only young people. We don’t have data–at least, I’m unaware of any–that gives us a handle on the numbers of disaffected “old guard” Republicans, the good-government, civic-minded folks I used to work with, who are horrified by what their party has become. The Steve Schmidts and other high-profile “never Trumpers” are only the tip of that iceberg.

Of course, the GOP establishment is aware of these demographics; those dwindling numbers are the impetus for the party’s constant efforts to rig the system–to gerrymander, impose draconian voter ID requirements, purge registration rolls and generally do whatever they can to suppress turnout.

They know that members of the cult will vote, no matter what. If the rest of us–however numerous– don’t, the current (profoundly unAmerican) iteration of what used to be a Grand Old Party will retain power.

You don’t have to love the Democrats to find that prospect a chilling one.

Living In The Real World

Indiana, among other states, has just come through primary election season. Citizens who have chosen to exercise their franchise and vote–a minority of those who could or should have–have decided what choices we voters will face in November.

In no case of which I am aware will those voters get to pick between God and Mammon–or even between an ideal candidate and  one who is less desirable. For that matter, in no state of which I am aware do citizens of either major party all agree on the characteristics of an ideal candidate.

This being the way of the real world, different people will react to this inescapable situation differently.

Purists and cynics, whose ranks have swelled, will assume a “pox on all their houses” posture. Some will vote, but many will not. In cases where the non-voters’ lack of participation results in the election of a person who will pursue destructive or inhumane policies, they will use that result to justify their belief that the entire system is beyond redemption, and that opting out confirms their moral superiority.

Needless to say, this is not an approach that improves the political landscape.

Those of us who do vote are equally aware of the systemic deficits and corruption of American governance, but we also understand that we live in the real world. There are no ideal or perfect candidates. There are no political parties able to high-mindedly ignore the importance of political fundraising or the contending claims and anxieties of relevant voting constituencies.

There are no political “saviors” whose election will magically bring about the sort of bipartisan agreements necessary for sweeping policy change. Even candidates with whom we agree will have limited ability to move America forward.

Lasting improvements to large-scale systems are overwhelmingly incremental; revolutions just tend to generate counter-revolutions. Recognizing this requires that we must often choose between very imperfect options–and unfortunately, in the real world, refusing to make a choice isn’t possible, because failing to vote is also a choice.

In my view, rational people will recognize that a choice between imperfect options is not the same thing as a choice without consequences.Some imperfect candidates and parties are considerably better than others.

In November, American voters will decide between continued control of our government by a Republican Party that has devolved into a White Nationalist cult, and a Democratic Party that–despite plenty of problems and deficiencies– is far more likely to support policies that will benefit most Americans.

In the real world, support for GOP candidates and/or refusal to cast a ballot are both a vote for that White Nationalist cult and its appalling and unAmerican President. It is a message that the individual is not sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo to signal that dissatisfaction at the ballot box.

The real world is messy and imperfect. That doesn’t mean that some imperfect choices aren’t better–much better–than others.

 

 

THIS!!

I generally shy away from basing my blogs–or my own opinions, for that matter–on material from partisan sources. Trump and his enablers may accuse traditional media of being “fake” or biased, but that’s a tactic, not an accurate description, so I try to limit my references to places like the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc.

But in the aftermath of Trump’s most recent–and arguably most breathtaking–departures from anything close to Presidential behavior/circumspection/sanity,  I’m breaking my rule, and sharing a Daily Kos post that spoke to me–loudly and clearly.

The obstacles to Democratic control of Congress are not emotional, and emotions are not the answer. We don’t require more “enthusiasm.” We’re not lacking in progressive ideas and candidates, nor are we shy on appropriately moderate options. We don’t need better explanations of our positions. We’re not even hurting for dough right now.

We need voters. And our opponents have done a damn good job for decades of blocking our voters.

Gerrymandering. Voter ID. Roll purges.

Our problems are structural. And they will take a great deal of work to overcome.

As regular readers of this blog know, when it comes to the importance of social and politicall structures, I’ve been singing that song for a long time. The author of this post goes further than diagnosis, however.

He has a prescription for what ails us.

Voter ID laws are unconstitutional poll taxes. That doesn’t get rid of them. The only way around them is to identify our voters and get them the IDs. We can’t just drive them to the polls, we have to drive them to the DMV six months earlier. And, if they can’t afford the new poll tax, we have to find a way to pay for those cards for them.

We have to make sure they are registered, and stay registered through the coming postcard purges, calling long before Election Day, checking for them and helping them re-register if they get booted.

And, on Election Day, we have to have already built those relationships. The phone calls can’t be, “Hi, I’m blah blah blah from the blah blah blah campaign reminding you to blah blah blah.” They have to be, “Hi, Phyllis, it’s Ashley. What time do you want me to pick you up?”

Admittedly, this is a lot of work. It’s so much easier to post a scathing remark to Facebook, to share a particularly pointed comment or article, and then feel as if we’ve done our part.

We can continue to preach to our choirs, engage in handwringing with those who already agree with us, and who already vote–or we can do the hard work of identifying non-voters, registering them, making sure they have what they need, and getting them to the polls.

Here’s the bottom line: there is only one way to save this country from the accelerating damage to our institutions and national defense (not to mention the raping and pillaging  that the Trumpers aren’t even bothering to hide). Democrats, scientists, moderate Republicans and all sane Americans must do two things simultaneously: we must delay and obstruct as many of their legislative assaults as humanly possible; and we must ensure that 2018 will be a wave election that will oust the Trump enablers from the House and Senate.

If we fail–if we give in to “outrage fatigue,” rely on the Democratic party or Common Cause or the ACLU to act on our behalf, or simply tell ourselves we’re “too busy” to find and equip that non-voter, we will wake up in January 2019 to a country we don’t recognize.. and definitely  won’t like.

 

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.