Friday, June 1, 2007

Election Responsibility

With the Presidential election coming up I once again became concerned with the civic duty of voting. It’s important to remind myself that the United States is a Republic not a democracy. We use democratic methods to select our representative. But our representatives are not held to popular vote for their decision-making. Although I can’t think of a better way of governing, this process has shown to be somewhat suspect. It seems to pander to special interest at the expense of the majority. Which is why political correctness is all in vogue.

Since 1960 the percent of eligible voters actually participating in the election process by casting a vote has dropped from 62.8% down to 48.9%. That’s a 25% (almost 16 million voters) reduction on only 36 years. The Roper pollsters have documented that the average collage graduate today knows little more about public affairs then the average high school graduate did in the 1940’s. This in spite of the fact that political organizations with paid staff has grown from 5 organizations per million population in 1980 to 9 organizations per million in 1996. The growth in individual contact by a political organization has grown dramatically while party workers have declined. We are 2.5 times more likely to be contact now then in 1968. It’s all about mass marketing.

Political fund raising is outstripping inflation by a factor of two for the Democrats and a factor of four for the Republicans. In 1964 on average it cost $35 million to run for president, in 1996 that number had risen to almost $700 million. Those figures are in current dollars and are not adjusted for inflation. In spite of this, the percent of voters who identify themselves with a political party has dropped from 75% in the 1960’s to 65% in the 1990’s. What a dichotomy. What’s going on?

The problem seems to be disenfranchisement of the average voter. A well-funded special interest group has two distinct advantages. First is money for mass marketing. You don’t have to be backed by the majority if you have a good marketing staff that can make you look like the majority. The second is motivated voters. If less than 50% of the voting population actually votes and a candidate only need a simple majority, then they need less than 25% of the voting population’s vote to win. If the special interest group represents 10% - 12% of the voting population and is motivated to get out to vote, they’re half way home. They can control the outcome of the election. That is one of the main reasons for all of this political correctness. They don’t need to court the other 75% to win. If a candidate doesn’t need a simple majority of the voting population to win, then the fewer voters, the better. If you don’t know the rules or the players, you don’t care about the outcome.

Cultural change comes from one of two phenomena, intercohortal or intracohortal. Intracohortal change is individual change on a wide scale. A shift from SUV’s to hybrid automobiles would be an intracohortal change. It would happen fairly quickly with increased gas prices and it could very easily change back when gas prices go down. If over years the price of gas never drops and new generations only have experience with hybrids there might be an intercohortal change in driving preference. These new generations might not see SUV’s as a viable option. In time it might be impossible to make a living selling SUV’s. This cultural change will take generations to change back.

This intercohortal change has taken place in politics. In the past, individuals may have opted out of the voting process, but the process was generally accepted as an obligation as a good citizen. As newer generations become more and more disenfranchised and they saw the older generation opting out, they eventually started to see voting as unimportant. It’s just not about being a good citizen. Big money and special interest groups have driven out the common voter.

I vote a split ticket almost every election. I could write a dissertation on why but I won’t. I don’t vote for anyone running unopposed (Judges mostly) because they don’t need my approval. They win because they are on the ballot. I also don’t vote for anyone unless they have earned my vote. I won’t pick the lesser of two evils in a contested election. I don’t want to endorse someone just because I am less opposed to him or her then his or her rival. I am mature enough to know that politics is about compromise, campaign promises are marketing, and unless I want to quit work to lobby for my own interest its hard to get noticed. I am afraid that the younger generation just doesn’t care. Quite frankly I don’t think the politicians do either.

If we want civic involvement to get back to the activity of the 1970’s at some point we need to recognize that what is good for the majority may not be good for a special interest group. That special interest group needs to convince the majority that their suggested change is good for most people. Politicians should be required to capture more than a simple majority of the active voters. If they were tied to a simple majority of the voting population they would create political platforms that motivated everyone to vote. This would be the other extreme. But then again, the politicians would have to change the rules and they like them the way they are. Only the loser wants them changed.

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. - Jay Leno

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