Saturday, September 26, 2015

Anyone Ever Tell You Voting Matters? Even When Many Of The Candidates Are Likely To Be Horribly Flawed?


Last week, writing for Vox, Sean McElwee offered a big reason why "Congress ignores the poor: they don't vote." He argued that turnout has a determinative effect on who we elect and, more important, what policies are enacted. (Primaries, in fact, are even more important today in many cases than general elections, where the Wall Street candidates-- whether a Jeb Bush or a Hillary Clinton-- are likely to be presented as the only alternatives, a lesser-of-two-evils choice.)

"Americans who vote," McElwee wrote, "are different from those who don’t. Voters are older, richer, and whiter than nonvoters, in part because Americans lack a constitutional right to vote and the various restrictions on voting tend to disproportionately impact the less privileged."

In 2014, turnout among those ages 18 to 24 with family incomes below $30,000 was 13 percent. Turnout among those older than 65 and making more than $150,000 was 73 percent. The result is policy that is biased in favor of the affluent. As I argue in a new report, Why Voting Matters, higher turnout would transform American politics by giving poor, young, and nonwhite citizens more sway.

People’s opinions on policy issues vary considerably based on age, income, and race, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that their opinions diverge quite a bit from those of voters. The chart below, created with data from the American National Election Studies 2012 survey, shows net support (percent against subtracted from percent in favor) for various economic policies. It shows that voters and nonvoters have dramatically different preferences: Nonvoters support more services, a job guarantee, and government action to reduce inequality, while voters oppose these policies. While both voters and nonvoters support boosting spending on the poor, nonvoters are far more favorable to it.

... Numerous scholars have studied the gradual expansion of the franchise internationally and discovered that increased participation boosted the size and scope of the welfare state. A study of 12 Western European countries over the period of 1830 to 1938 finds, "The gradual lifting of socio-economic restrictions on the voting franchise contributed to growth in government spending." The effect hasn’t gone away in recent years. A study of the period from 1960 to 1982 concludes that higher turnout boosts welfare spending, even after controlling for political and environmental factors.

The expansion of the franchise to women is also instructive. As women gained access to the franchise within the United States, state government spending increased dramatically (see chart below). Indeed, the enfranchisement of women boosted spending on public health so significantly that it saved an estimated 20,000 children each year.

Later, the civil rights movement mobilized the Southern black electorate, which led to more liberal voting patterns among Southern Democrats and a boost in government spending going to black communities. The elimination of poll taxes and the subsequent mobilization of poor voters also lead to an increase in welfare spending.

There are many reasons the United States doesn’t have an expansive welfare state, like nearly every other high-income country. However, one important part is low voter turnout...

Already in America, the wealthy are more likely to donate to politicians, work on political campaigns, and be in regular contact with elected officials. In addition, politicians are far wealthier than ordinary citizens. These biases already conspire against the interests of poor people.

But deep differences in turnout based on income, age, and race only serve to further reduce the poor’s say. In the status quo, politicians don’t have incentives to listen to ordinary Americans, because it won’t cost them anything. That won’t change until turnout among nonwhite and poor voters increases. There are a number of ways that government can encourage voting: by fixing the Voting Rights Act, by enacting automatic voter registration, by repealing voter ID laws. All would give the poor more voice, and give policies they support a better chance of passage.
Noam Chomsky is still optimistic-- or hopeful-- that the potential for ordinary people to make radical change is alive and well, in both Britain and the U.S. "Over time," he told journalist Tommaso Segantini last week, "there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course." Chomsky makes a good case for why it is essential for Bernie supporters to also elect progressives to the Senate and to the House.

Suppose that Sanders won, which is pretty unlikely in a system of bought elections. He would be alone: he doesn’t have congressional representatives, he doesn’t have governors, he doesn’t have support in the bureaucracy, he doesn’t have state legislators; and standing alone in this system, he couldn’t do very much. A real political alternative would be across the board, not just a figure in the White House.

It would have to be a broad political movement [which is exactly what Bernie is always saying as well]. In fact, the Sanders campaign I think is valuable-- it’s opening up issues, it’s maybe pressing the mainstream Democrats a little bit in a progressive direction, and it is mobilizing a lot of popular forces, and the most positive outcome would be if they remain after the election.

It’s a serious mistake to just to be geared to the quadrennial electoral extravaganza and then go home. That’s not the way changes take place. The mobilization could lead to a continuing popular organization which could maybe have an effect in the long run.

... Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.

...The task of organizers and activists is to help people understand and to make them recognize that they have power, that they’re not powerless. People feel impotent, but that has to be overcome. That’s what organizing and activism is all about.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails, but there aren’t any secrets. It’s a long-term process-- it has always been the case. And it’s had successes. Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.
Despite the best efforts of the U.K.'s establishment media (as you'll see in the sly and insidious clip below), Corbyn won his contest against the hideous, bloodsucking establishment. Can Bernie win his-- against a very similar hideous, bloodsucking establishment? That's up to us.

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