Tag Archives: status quo

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.

Saving Remnant? Or Leading Edge?

I was recently in a meeting where courteous, educated and concerned citizens shared different perspectives on promoting the common good. I couldn’t help wondering whether  gatherings of this sort might be evidence of incremental positive change, or whether, instead, part of what biblical folks might call “the saving remnant”–the relatively small segment of society that keeps the lamp of reason burning through dark ages.

One of my sons recently characterized my reactions to contemporary politics as “bipolar” noting that I alternate between despair over destructive stupidity to hopefulness sparked by emerging signs of rebellion against our “Gilded Age” status quo.

I’ve shared a good deal of the despair on this blog: the evidence of persistent, widespread racism; the efforts to roll back women’s rights; the descent of a once-responsible political party into fantasy, bigotry and anti-intellectualism; the systemic, legal and structural barriers to change; the growing gap between the rich and everyone else; the outsized influence of money in politics….and the list goes on.

When I focus on these aspects of our poltical/social landscape, it’s hard to be cheery and upbeat about the future.

But there are also emerging signs of change–signs that a challenge to the status quo may be in the offing. And there’s the fact that American history is filled with examples of such change.

Survey research provides evidence that younger Americans are less bigoted, more inclusive and far less in thrall to religious fundamentalism than their elders. The  movement to raise the minimum wage is gaining traction. The dramatic change in public opinion on same-sex marriage should be a wake-up call to the proponents of all sorts of “traditional” stereotypes, not just of LGBT folks, but of women and African-Americans.

Rush Limbaugh continues to lose market share. Despite the anti-science posture of so many lawmakers, recent surveys show that 80% of Americans accept the reality of climate change and want government to do something about it.

And all around the country, people are taking to the streets to demand change. It isn’t just Ferguson and Baltimore protesting police excesses; it’s fast-food and hotel workers and Walmart employees demanding fair treatment and pay, and Moral Monday activists reproaching state-level lawmakers’ disregard for the common good (shades of the Social Gospel!). In Washington, it’s bipartisan recognition of the need to reform America’s criminal justice system. Here in Indiana, it was the overwhelming pushback to passage of RFRA (followed by the “Pence Must Go” signs still popping up all over the state).

While social media and the Internet can be used to create a bubble that reinforces our pre-existing world-views, they can also inform us of injustices we wouldn’t otherwise  know about. They can connect us with others committed to change. The ubiquity of cellphone cameras allows documentation of events that were previously “he said/she said.” The same technologies that disorient and threaten my generation are allowing those who’ve grown up with them to create new kinds of communities.

The structural barriers to change are formidable, but entrenched privilege has been toppled before. I’d say it’s 50/50….and my mood at any given time depends upon which 50% I’m looking at.

Saving remnant? or Signs of emerging social change?