Tuesday, 19 October 2004

The Half That Doesn't Vote

Sometimes I hear friends opine that if only the half of the voters who didn't show up on election day would vote, somebody like Nader might have a chance. I don't know if these people are serious, but if so they are certainly deluded. Of course there IS some contingent of cynical left leaning non-voters in this country who just don't turn out due to disgust with our choices. I'd be surprised, however, if that group amounted to more than 10% of those who don't vote, and it would be countered by close to the same number of cynical non-voters of decidedly different persuasions. Most of the non-voting population I would guess is markedly apolitical, and there's no telling what they'd do if forced into the ballot box. More than likely they would vote for whichever name they had heard the most.

According to fairvote.org, "turnout among potentially eligible voters in the U.S. in presidential elections is only 50-55%. By comparison, turnout is 70-75% in Canada and well over 80% in most other democracies." Certainly there is the potential to increase the voter rolls enormously, and I do believe there has been a substantial increase this year. In a 1998 report the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate estimates that the percentage of registered voters has hovered between 60 and 66 percent over the last twenty years.

With all the attention being afforded the Presidential election this year, combined with the uncannily close result four years ago in which the sense that every vote may make a difference, it's a pretty sure bet that both registration and turnout will be up this year, though by how much is hard to say. I've seen vague reports about increased registration, but no solid figures. With polls as closely divided as they are, it seems likely that new registrants and new voters are just as likely to come from pro-Bush environments as anti-Bush environments. Why is it then that I'm so confident that this new group of voters is going to break 60-40 in Kerry's direction?



-epm said...

I think the structure of our government -- congressoinal vs. parliamentary -- is the fundamental cause for the polarized two-party system we have today. And this polarization has led to a feeling of disenfranchisement among many voters who feel voiceless and powerless. Thus low voter turnout.

I'm not hopeful for the future. Look at the Republican party; the far right theocrats are eating their own, tearing down sensible Republican incumbants and agressively backing extremist challengers.

Anonymous said...

explain. You're saying that a congressional versus parliamentary system leads to greater polarization; do I understand you correctly? How does that work? It's not apparent to me what you have in mind.

(this "e-blogger" "have-to-get-an-account-to-post-a-comment" thing is pretty irritating, to be honest)

Walker said...


I totally agree with you about the needing an account to comment constraint. Keep using the "post as anonymous" link and just signing your name though.

Eric will probably weigh in on your question, but I'll give my own attempt to explain it. I should state up front, though, that parliamentary systems have their own drawbacks, and I've really not studied the issue enough to be confident that parliamentary is better than district based representation. Nonetheless, parliamentary systems do succeed in giving significant political minorities (somewhat) proportional representation in government, without having to garner a majority in any particular district. There are enough Libertarians in this country for instance, that by all rights they ought to have at least 25 of the 438 seats in Congress, but instead they are totally unrepresented, except by stealth Libertarians, such as Ron Paul, who run under the Republican banner. (Now why Paul, as an incumbent, couldn't have tried to make it official and run as a Libertarian, I don't understand.)

A lot has to do with how one defines
"polarization". Giving minority parties representation arguably adds perspectives, thus moving away from two poles. There is another definition of polarization which focuses on the drifting toward extremes as opposed to duality. In the U.S House of Representatives, that form is encouraged by the way boundaries are drawn to create so many safe districts. This problem isn't inherent to the district representative scheme, but rather to the reality of politics (outside of Iowa) today. The creation of safe districts, effectively leaves the minority views within that district frustrated with nowhere to turn, and allow more extreme ideologues to prevail and gain long tenure in districts where there is no viable alternative. I've entertained the notion that only autistics with a talent for that sort of thing should be allowed to draw districts after being given a set of rules around convexity, and keeping natural jurisdictions together. It'll never happen of course, but how else do you do it and keep the creator of the boundaries blind to their political consequences?

Now in an ironic twist, one potential use of gerrymandering would be an attempt to provide minorities who would otherwise be unrepresented, their own chance at representation. I know this has been officially sanctioned as a way to create majority African American districts in states where that cannot occur with largely convex districts.

Anonymous said...

I see, that makes sense. Good point, I hadn't thought of that before. The risk of gerrymandering is an ever-present one wherever districts elect candidates, as is all too apparent here in Texas. I'm sure you've heard a little about all that. Tom DeLay is just plain evil. I'm right-leaning and would ordinarily vote Republican, but it seems most Republican pols in Texas are pretty unsavory.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me above; forgot to sign it... :-)