Thursday, December 4, 2014

Historically Low 2014 Voter Turnout - Why?

General election voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest it's been in any election cycle since World War II, according to the United States Election Project. Just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots on November 4, 2014.

The last time voter turnout was so low during a midterm cycle was in 1942, when only 33.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Like many, I'm asking the question - why did only 36.4 percent of potential voters bother to vote in the 2014 midterm election? Obviously, those voters didn't have a good enough reason to take the trouble to vote.

Gaining some understanding of why almost two-thirds of potential voters were unmotivated to vote for candidates of any political party is the first step to planning campaign strategy for the 2016 election cycle. A Campaign for America's Future Op-Ed, by Campaign for America's Future Fellow Dave Johnson, perhaps provides a lead in examining the root causes of the historically low 2014 voter turnout - at least on the Democratic Party side. Op-Ed Excerpts:

Democrats were considered the majority party from the time of Roosevelt’s New Deal until the 1980s. All they had to do to win was to get a high enough voter turnout. Democratic operations were more about Get Out The Vote (GOTV) than giving people reasons to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. They just assumed most people agreed with them – because most people agreed with them. But that time has passed.

In the 1970s corporations and conservatives launched a major marketing push, establishing a network of PR “think tanks” that pushed a neoliberal economic line. Since the mid-1970s Americans have been subjected to a constant drumbeat through all purchasable information channels – even a whole TV network that blasts out right-wing propaganda 24/7/12/365 – all constantly repeating a professionally-crafted propaganda narrative that conservatives and their values are good and “liberals” and their values are bad.

Instead of responding and countering this, most Democratic candidates and officeholders instead tried moving to where their pollsters perceived the pubic to be on an imagined political spectrum. Conservatives pushed the public right, no one responded to the propaganda, Democrats chased the inevitable result. In this environment the country’s politics could only shift rightward – and voters who did not want to vote for “Pepsi-like” candidates to the right of them stopped turning out.

So corporate, neo-liberal policies came to dominate our economy. “Free trade”, anti-union, monopolistic anti-democracy policies have killed wage growth and government programs for regular, working people and regular, working people have responded by turning away from the party that was supposed to be watching out for them.

Dave Dayen sums this up at The Fiscal Times, in “The So-So Society: Democrats Have Forgotten What Made Them Great.” (Click through to see his list of potential solutions Democrats could offer.)
This is not the Democratic Party of your great-grandfather’s New Deal or your grandfather’s Great Society. The takeover of the party by more business-friendly interests — which ironically (or perhaps not) dates back to right around 1973, when wages decoupled from productivity — necessarily impoverishes the imagination around issues of economic security and prosperity.
William Greider drives it home at The Nation, in “How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul: The trouble started when the party abandoned its working-class base.
Instead of addressing this reality and proposing remedies, the Democrats ran on a cowardly, uninspiring platform: the Republicans are worse than we are. Undoubtedly, that’s true—but so what? The president and his party have no credible solutions to offer. To get serious about inequality and the deteriorating middle class, Democrats would have to undo a lot of the damage their own party has done to the economy over the past thirty years.
As Democrats embraced neoliberal “market solution” arguments and moved away from representing the interests of working-class and middle-class voters, many of those voters had nowhere left to turn and simply stopped voting.

A majority of people can’t stand the Republican party’s policies, its divisiveness and nastiness, its racism and the way it is absolutely and completely owned and operated by the 1 percent – particularly oil companies and Wall Street.

Poll after poll shows the public favoring the policy positions that used to be ascribed to [liberal] Democrats, including taxing the rich and corporations to provide good schools, infrastructure, services and benefits to regular working and middle-class Americans (see  In the 2014 election, Democratic candidates distanced themselves from these popular progressive [liberal] policies, and their own president! The result is many people no longer bother to show up and vote [- Democrat or Republican]. Almost 64 percent of potential voters just stayed home.

In “Who Will Save the Democratic Party From Itself?” Thomas Edsall looks at the bigger picture of whether Democrats can use economic arguments to challenge the party’s current strategy of “identity group" mobilization. The identity group mobilization strategy assumes that turning out single women, the youth vote, and racial and ethnic minorities is more effective than to talking about policy priorities of interest to working-class and middle-class voters - largely identified as recalcitrant white middle and working class voters forever lost to the Republican Party. The problem with Democrats just writing off white middle and working class voters is that they are large portion the 64 percent of the potential voters who didn't vote.  

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