Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Real Challenge for Democrats in the 2018 Election: Getting Non-voters to Vote

If the Democrats are going to have a good change at winning the 2018 mid-term elections  in a decisive way … which is what is really needed … then we have to do more than convince disaffected Trump voters to vote Democratic.  That could be enough to change the balance of power in Congress, but it would result in a very close election with no clear mandate, other than an anti-Trump message. We can do better than that.

What Democrats need to do is get those people who routinely don’t vote to vote.  In mid-term elections, the voting rate is usually around 35 - 40%  The vast majority of the non-voters are people who just don’t vote, as opposed to those who vote in Presidential elections but not in off-year elections.  (In Presidential elections, the voting rate is typically between 51% and 56%.)  This will not be an easy task.

The reason why this is potentially so important is that those who don’t vote are demographically different from those who do.  Non-voters are younger; people of color form a larger percentage; and they are less affluent and less educated.  In short, non-voters are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican if they voted.

Why does such a large proportion of eligible voters routinely not vote?  No other advanced, industrialized country makes such a dismal showing of citizen participation in the basic act of democracy - voting.  What follows are the primary reasons.  Two could be easily fixed; one is more difficult and almost endemic to politics.

1.  Voter registration is often difficult.  And Republican-controlled legislatures are making registration and voting even more difficult.  Of those who are registered, a high percentage (84%) typically vote.  While many just have no interest in voting, a lot of people don’t really get caught up in political races until the last stages, but by then it’s too late to register in most of the U.S. (exceptions: in Minnesota you can register on election day, and in North Dakota you don’t have to register at all).

There should be no barriers to voter registration.  It should be automatic.  If you are a citizen, you are registered.  Why not?  Voting is a right of citizenship.  Period.  However, how to do that would be more difficult than in some European countries where everyone must register their residence at the local police station.  In those countries, they know at all times where people are.  But I’m sure that there are ways to do that.  Automatic registration when you get a drivers license is good, but that leaves many poor people out.    Additional means must be found.

Also note, this would be different from the current practice in states that connect drivers license with voter registration.  These states either allow people to opt out of registration or they must do something, however minimal, to register.  Given the prevalence of the “who cares” attitude, registration must be automatic.  It is a duty of citizenship and so should be automatic; also that way if someone decides at the last minute to vote, they can because they are registered.

2.  Voting day is a work day.  In most other countries, voting day is either a national holiday or it is on a weekend when fewer people work.  Although legally, employers have to allow people to take time off from work to vote, for many people, especially lower level employees, their job is a lifeline and they won’t do anything that might jeopardize their job.  Few employers actively encourage people to take time off to vote.

There should be no barriers to voting.  There is no reason why election day should not be a national holiday.  We have them for all sorts of reasons, most not particularly important.  This one is important.  Barring that, election day should be changed to a weekend, preferably a Sunday.

3.  Many people think that voting is a worthless exercise.  They are disgusted with politics.  A pox on both your houses.  They don’t think that either party is truly interested in helping better their lives, which is what matters most to most people.  

This reason will be harder to resolve.  Even the passage of Obamacare, which did make a difference to millions, did not shake this alienation.  To them all the party platforms are just chatter.  And of course this is partly true.  The reason why Trump won is that he was able to convince people, running as an outsider, that he really heard them, felt for them, and was going to do something that would benefit them.  And now they are learning that this was also chatter.

How do you get people to suspend their deep feeling of disbelief in politicians?  I don’t have the answer.  But it’s not telling people all the wonderful thing that Democrats have done in the past for the working class and poor; those things are true, but people take those things for granted.  People still don’t feel good about their lives.  They need something more meaningful than food stamps and various forms of aid. They need better schools, better pay, better jobs.  They need to feel good about what they are doing.

Some politicians appear more trustworthy and charismatic than others, but while that may impact an election, it won’t pull the nonvoters out of their habit-energy.  Not even Obama broke the 60% barrier in the 2008 election.  If I were in charge of the DNC, I would conduct focus groups of nonvoters to find out what it would take to get them to vote.

But for starters, the Democratic Party and its politicians must speak to these people, directly and honestly.  They must show the forgotten that they are not forgotten.  And they must have a new all-inclusive Mission at their disposal that will hopefully convince people to give them a chance.  The prospective voter after all has nothing to lose.

As for the Mission, here is what I’ve proposed:

To bring to life the promises set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
To build a country of greater opportunity where:

* each and every American has the best chance to experience the promise 
‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with 
certain unalienable Rights … Life,  Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’;

* government meets its responsibility as set forth in the Declaration …  
‘to secure those rights’,  within the constraints of fiscal responsibility; and

* all citizens have a shared responsibility to support the government’s efforts 
 to secure those rights and promote the public good, each according to his ability.”

These words from the Declaration of Independence are the moral philosophy, the heart, the soul of American democracy. This is America’s common faith.  Together with the concept of shared responsibility, this is America’s social contract.  To further that promise of equality and opportunity with fiscal responsibility is the Mission of the Democratic Party.  

Stop playing identify politics; speak to the American people.  While providing continuity with the past, this Mission provides a new start for the Party and for the country,