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Forum Post: The silent plurality Nonvoters make up largest electoral bloc in the nation

Posted 2 years ago on Oct. 28, 2012, 3:04 p.m. EST by gsw (2733)
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http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/10/28/2347410/the-silent-plurality-nonvoters.html

WASHINGTON – If you’re a Republican, you probably don’t like it when people say nasty things about your candidate. If you’re a Democrat, you get steamed when the other side insults your president or your party. CHRISTIAN CARYL Published: Oct. 28, 2012 at 12:05 a.m. PDT The silent plurality Nonvoters make up largest electoral bloc in the nation WASHINGTON – If you’re a Republican, you probably don’t like it when people say nasty things about your candidate. If you’re a Democrat, you get steamed when the other side insults your president or your party. CHRISTIAN CARYL Published: Oct. 28, 2012 at 12:05 a.m. PDT 0 Comments

WASHINGTON – If you’re a Republican, you probably don’t like it when people say nasty things about your candidate. If you’re a Democrat, you get steamed when the other side insults your president or your party.

But there’s one electoral bloc that both parties can vilify at their leisure: those U.S. citizens who refuse to vote. They are routinely derided as stupid, or lazy or hapless.

By now, many Americans have already figured out that there are problems with the way they vote. Start with the fact that some people’s votes count more than others. The presidential vote on Nov. 6 is shaping up to be a pretty tight contest, so it’s entirely possible that the final tally will be close. But, as anyone who’s heard of the electoral college already knows, U.S. presidents aren’t elected on the basis of the popular vote. (Remember Florida in 2000?) So there’s already plenty of editorial anguish over the inherent unfairness of this arrangement.

And then there’s the controversy over registration. Republicans, warning against vote fraud, have introduced laws across the country that raise the bar for voter registration. Critics of these efforts point out that these laws address a kind of fraud that is unlikely to occur, glossing over the type that is much more threatening (namely, the wholesale manipulation of electronic voting machines). Such critics accuse the Republicans of actually trying to suppress the turnout of groups – minorities, the underprivileged, the elderly – who are more likely to vote for Democrats.

These are all legitimate problems. But what I don’t understand is why no one is addressing the elephant in the room: the fact that some 40 percent of Americans of voting age don’t see any reason to cast their votes on election day at all.

In national election after national election, eligible voters who choose to refrain from voting make up what some political scientists have called a “silent plurality.”

There have been moments when that plurality was pretty close to becoming a majority. In 1996, 49.1 percent of the voting-age population declined to go to the polls. In 2008, turnout of eligible voters went all the way up to 61.7 percent – the highest since 1968, mind you. But the number of those who refused to vote – or just didn’t care – was still significantly larger than those who voted for Barack Obama, the winning candidate. Nonvoters, in short, make up the biggest electoral bloc in the nation.

You’d think this would be the occasion for some soul-searching. After all, how can you claim to have a democracy when your leaders are elected with a mandate from 30-odd percent of the country’s eligible voters?

It’s estimated that some 90 million Americans will abstain from voting next month. You’d think that this would prompt us to ask some fundamental questions about the viability of a system that’s supposedly based on popular participation but actually prompts rejection on a mass scale. (Participation is even lower for midterm congressional elections – only 39 percent of the voting-age population showed up in 2010, for example – and lower still for elections on the state and city levels.)

Most of the articles on this subject lately view it through the predictable lens of how these abstainers would affect the election if they actually chose to vote. (The consensus seems to be that most of them lean Democratic, presumably because nonvoters do tend to be poorer and less well-educated and thus more inclined to vote for liberal policies.) But perhaps reporters are asking the wrong questions.

Withholding one’s vote in a presidential election is, in fact, an entirely rational response to the existing political order in the United States. The electoral college is a big part of the problem, of course. If you live in persistently Republican Texas, you have very good reasons to doubt that your vote for Obama will really influence the outcome. If you live in solidly liberal Massachusetts, casting a vote for Mitt Romney as president is likely to have little effect.

As a result, pundits and prognosticators say that there are only nine states that really matter in this year’s presidential election: the so-called “battleground” states where the outcome is still uncertain enough to warrant attention from the candidates. As The Associated Press pointed out, modern campaigns now have the data to target voters even more narrowly than that, and they’re now focusing on just 106 “swing counties” (out of 3,143 in the United States).

The reason, of course, is the winner-take-all system of the electoral college, which dictates that whoever wins a majority of the votes in a state gets all of that state’s electors. In fact, the winner-take-all (or first-past-the-post) principle pervades American politics. As political scientists know, these sorts of electoral mechanisms tend to foster the creation of two-party systems.

The problem is that a two-party system doesn’t come anywhere close to exhausting the range of options for political expression. Earlier this year, when pollsters decided to examine the motives of nonvoters, one of the questions involved alternate political parties. Only 32 percent of nonvoters agreed with the premise that two parties are good. Twenty-six percent of them said that a third party is necessary, while another 27 percent preferred “multiple” parties.

That’s why it’s wrong to dismiss nonvoters as ignorant couch potatoes. Under the American system, a vote cast for a third party (the Libertarians, say, or the Greens) is a lost vote. Your ballot has no effect whatsoever on the actual balance of power, so abstaining from an election that offers any chance to pick the policies you’d like to see makes perfect sense. This is also why it’s somewhat nonsensical to ask voters whether they’d vote for third parties under the current circumstances. What good would that do?

By contrast, systems based on proportional representation offer much more precise opportunities for the expression of political preferences. If you’re a German, for example, you can cast a vote for the Free Democratic Party or the Greens, knowing that one of these relatively marginal parties might very well end up forming a coalition with the more popular Christian Democrats or Social Democrats and thus influencing the formation of the government.

“Even minority parties are going to get seats,” says Jeffrey Green, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. “There’s a motivation for everyone to turn out even when no one gets the winner.”

It should come as no surprise that participation in German elections tends to be higher than in the U.S. (The world champions, perhaps, are the Swedes, who vote at a rate of about 80 percent of the voting-age population.)

Proportional representation has many problems, of course – most notoriously, fragmentation and chronic instability. See, for example, Israel, where tiny, radical parties often end up exercising power disproportionate to their actual electoral strength.

One solution is to stipulate that parties have to get a certain minimum percentage of the overall vote in order to enter parliament. (In Germany, the threshold is 5 percent; in Israel, it’s only 1.5 percent.) And, to be fair, it’s worth noting that voter participation is trending downward in just about every established democracy.

Can Americans change their system to make it more democratic? A bit of tinkering around the edges is feasible. Two states – Maine and Nebraska – apply proportional principles to the presidential election: Electors from these states are awarded in proportion to the number of votes cast for each candidate. In other words, these two states have done away with winner-take-all. Not a bad idea.

There’s also talk of a far more ambitious plan: getting rid of the electoral college altogether and allowing direct election of the president by popular vote. The demand for this option seems to be growing. But can anyone really expect the two currently existing parties to agree?

One thing is clear: Half of Americans don’t feel represented by the current system, and this disaffection appears to be deepening with time. The sense of exasperation with the existing two-party oligopoly ranges from establishment stalwarts like Tom Friedman to professional malcontents like Noam Chomsky.

Meanwhile, the ranks of the abstainers continue to swell – presumably because they feel like they have no stake in a political arrangement that doesn’t address their concerns. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t seem to bode well for the future of democracy in the United States.

Christian Caryl is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, and a senior fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/10/28/2347410/the-silent-plurality-nonvoters.html#storylink=cpy

15 Comments

15 Comments


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[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (22351) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

The silent plurality Nonvoters make up largest electoral bloc in the nation - are also those who need the most urgent attention and education. They have opted out ( they are silent ) and must be shown their power and their need.

[-] 1 points by gsw (2733) 1 year ago

Justice Party Forum float your boat?

http://www.justicepartyusa.org/forums

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (22351) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Ummmm you questioned your post. But to give you my honest viewpoint - no - I am only interested in issues - no parties.

[-] 2 points by gsw (2733) 1 year ago

Thats good.

All these groups should unite, in one fleet of ships.

They wish to prosecute wall street fraud

http://www.justicepartyusa.org/about

Theyre another voice speaking against this crime against humanity

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (22351) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Union of concerned scientists + the Sierra Club + AARP + people for the American way + the cancer society + Green Peace + Move to Amend + + + all acting in concert = millions all supporting the same issues. All of these groups and more combined in action to say push Move to Amend and One subject at a time Legislation and stopping fracking and pushing fully into the implementation of green technology for power generation for industrial operation for transportation. How huge could such collaboration be?

[-] 1 points by gsw (2733) 1 year ago

53 percent of polled think we need more than 2 parties

The problem is that a two-party system doesn’t come anywhere close to exhausting the range of options for political expression. Earlier this year, when pollsters decided to examine the motives of nonvoters, one of the questions involved alternate political parties. Only 32 percent of nonvoters agreed with the premise that two parties are good. Twenty-six percent of them said that a third party is necessary, while another 27 percent preferred “multiple” parties.

Yes, OTP, I agree with the excellent article you provided. the few progressive don't rock boat enough

http://www.justicepartyusa.org/about

These groups ought to unite Green, Justice, All Progressives and run some viable candidates.

It would be nice if those liberal converted to a progressive party.

[-] 1 points by stevebol (1269) from Milwaukee, WI 2 years ago

There's no such thing as the 'silent plurality'. Non-voters aren't part of any plurality, people who vote for the democratic or republican nominee are part of the plurality. Political science being the bogus science it is wants to blame non-voters for something but we have a right not to vote.

[-] 1 points by stevebol (1269) from Milwaukee, WI 2 years ago

Is this what poly-sci majors study? What exactly do they want from us? Being stupid, lazy and hapless isn't a crime.

[-] 0 points by Futurevision1 (-75) 2 years ago

Perhaps so-called "democracy" is not the best way.

[-] 1 points by gsw (2733) 2 years ago

why not use technology to increase involvement in democracy?

Is it democracy when many do not participate? Many countries have mandatory voting, voting holidays, and not winner take all but porportional representation.

We have had low turnout for years. Below are some comparative links

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-steven-friedman/voter-turnout-europe-america_b_1660271.html

http://www.accuratedemocracy.com/d_datac.htm

Voter Turnout Study Ranks U.S. Lowest Among 28 Nations AP Published: December 08, 1987 SIGN IN TO E-MAIL PRINT

The United States had the lowest voter turnout rate, 53.58 percent of citizens of voting age in Presidential elections, among 28 democratic countries from 1969 to 1986, according to a Congressional study.

The study by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congres, focused on 143 elections in 28 nations. It compared voting percentages based on the day of the week that elections were held to determine whether people were more likely to vote on weekends or on weekdays.

The report found that countries holding elections on non-workdays had an average turnout rate of 88.28 percent as against 77.07 percent for countries holiding elections on workdays.

However, the study also included some countries where voting is compulsory, such as Australia, which led in turnout for elections on May 18, 1974, and Dec. 13, 1975, and Belgium, which had the third highest turnout, for its April 17, 1977, election.

Removing the compulsory-voting countries from the data, the Congressional researchers found an average voter turnout of 76.96 percent. Every country with compulsory voting also held elections on non-workdays.

http://www.idea.int/vt/

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/dem_pre_ele_reg_vot_tur-presidential-elections-registered-voter-turnout

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/08/us/voter-turnout-study-ranks-us-lowest-among-28-nations.html

[-] 0 points by Futurevision1 (-75) 2 years ago

Do you really want people that don't care or are ignorant or just plain stupid voting? In my opinion there are too many of those voting already.

[-] 1 points by gsw (2733) 2 years ago

I don't.

Are there that many people that don't care or are ignorant or just plain stupid?

http://swampland.time.com/2012/10/15/the-lohan-effect-will-romney-get-a-boost-from-low-information-voters/

Quite a few polled nonvoters, according to the posted article,The silent plurality Nonvoters make up largest electoral bloc in the nation, would like some other options than corporate candidate R or corporate candidate D.

Unfortunately, our winner take all allocation is not ideal http://www.fairvote.org/comparing-choice-voting-and-winner-take-all-elections#.UI32vm_A-So

http://www.duke.edu/web/poli/classes/proprep/withouttext.htm

[-] 0 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 2 years ago

"You’d think this would be the occasion for some soul-searching. After all, how can you claim to have a democracy when your leaders are elected with a mandate from 30-odd percent of the country’s eligible voters?"

Clearly this person doesn't adhere to the standard definition of a democracy. But they DO like presumptions enough to base entire arguments upon them.