Nov. 5, 2014 (San Diego) We know the results, Republicans took the Senate. We know the results; California’s Democrats did sweep high state offices. The normal media narrative is that the voters in a midterm look very different from during presidential elections. This is true. What is not asked, is why?
Why is it that mostly white, mostly older, and mostly more conservative voters come out during both primary elections and midterm elections. On the other hand, presidential elections look like another country, mostly it truly is.
There are systemic reasons as to why younger voters are not going to come out during an election that is not the presidential election.
Over the last generation, probably longer, we have had a consistent decrease in the teaching of civics. The importance of voting is not taught anymore. The older generation was taught the importance of voting every election.
There is also the feeling that we have too many elections. In San Diego City we have had a lot in the recent past. This is not an excuse, but it is something that has to be addressed as well. Regardless the turnout was low, and that was not just in San Diego.
Over the last generation we have also had a change in how history is taught in high school. Don’t get me wrong. History at that level has always been sanitized, but things like labor history and civil rights is quite deficient or non-existent. So there are no examples of democratic change, with a small d for students to see as examples.
We also need to examine the message given by both parties, but chiefly Democrats. Over the last 30 years, starting with Reagan, Democrats have emphasized the White House as the only road to positive change. Controlling the White House in the age of the Imperial Presidency makes sense, but it is not the only route. This message has now become the whirlwind of people who only vote in presidential general elections.
The Moral Majority in particular, understood as early as the 1980s that the way to change starts at the dogcatcher level. If you control water boards, fireboards, city councils and other low tier offices, you control local change. You also develop a farm team that is experienced. When you refuse to do that, well, good luck running for congress or the white house, without any name recognition.
That said, republicans have also become experts at running the perfect outsider campaigns even when they are the consummate insiders. When government is the problem, you do not want to admit you are part of the government.
THE RISE OF THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL DESTRUCION
The 1990s saw that moment in politics. You could say the Gary Hart presidential bid was the moment everything changed, when he dared the press to follow him and they did, a great taboo was broken. Personal lives of political figures became an open book and increasingly claims and counter claims are made that make people turn off from races.
When people now include families in these politics, well, the yuk factor increases by orders of magnitude.
Only the most committed partisans on both sides remain attentive to races that consistently go negative, and consistently do not tell us what candidates will do. They tell us all the naughty bits of a politician’s life. While character matters, it is to the point that many potential voters just tune the whole process off.
As we have written in the recent past in this publication, the amount of dark money in politics is making it increasingly impossible for voters to make informed decisions. It is bad enough that the press corps really cannot make heads or tails either. That said, the money going into add buys also makes it increasingly hard for stations and other media outlets to look deeply into issues. It is a business decision.
HOPELESSNESS AND MALAISE
Many people have simply given up in the electoral and party system. As the two parties move increasingly to the right, people feel those in power are not listening to them. Given the amount of dark money in the system, this has a grain of truth, as well as the decreasing level of real policy differences between members of the parties, especially in high offices.
In recent years voters have seen bankers not pay the price after the 2008 meltdown, and the powerful get away with almost anything. They hear populist promise come from both sides, but they see nothing done. It is easy to think that it does not matter, because as far as the voter is concerned, nothing really changes.
We also have a media that chases after scandals, and does not look into issues. As well as an environment where people truly believe they have a say in American Idol, but none in how things go in distant Washington, let alone the local city council.
As long as this continues we will see these dramatically different electorates every two years, as well as the primary season.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?
Rock the Vote is a good concept, but it is not working. Partly it is not working because young people do not believe their vote matters, especially outside the presidential election. Current older voters were not allowed to vote at 18 when the Vietnam War was raging, they are not going to stop voting in every election.
Short of a major event that hits millennials over the head, this will not change unless we prioritize civics and history education. Given that this is benefiting those in power, I do not expect it.
Still, while it is fun to blame a group did not come out to vote, or the internal circular squads within parties every time the tide changes (every two years anymore), we need to ask, why? And until that question is asked by a lot of people, there is no hope, no pun that things will change at the systemic level.
In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the biannual rending of garments by partisans who really are not asking the real question: WHY?
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