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Posts Tagged ‘voting’

The Verdict on Class and Voting

Guest post by Michael Hout*

Early in 2012, sociologist Michael Hout addressed, in a guest post on this blog, the assertion that the Republican party had become the party of the white working-class. He pointed out that, while the GOP had gained adherents across all classes in the last few decades, its supporters remained distinctively upper- rather than lower status. “You can see it in the polls; you can see it in the policies.”  With the 2012 results in, we can now see it in the votes.

Class issues stood out more in the 2012 presidential election than in previous ones, even more than in 2008. The campaigns invoked, as always, issues of all sorts, but seldom in American politics are the issues of class so prominent as they were this year.

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Governor Romney’s personal wealth and how he accumulated it were issues that fellow Republicans raised during the primaries. Once Romney was the nominee, President Obama’s campaign defined Romney as a member of the “one-percent” — among the handful of Americans so rich they prosper while others struggle. A clandestine video surfaced in which Governor Romney identified 47 percent of Americans who “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Seconds later on the same video he said, “My job is not to worry about them.” The challenger’s remarks allowed the President to add “uncaring” to the charge of unfair privileges.

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Obama’s Racial Penalty

Barack Obama has run his presidential races with an extra weight on his shoulders: being black. Sure, there are some pundits who claim that he benefits from his race – black loyalty, white guilt, and such – but serious scholars understand that his race has been, in net, a notable disadvantage. My rough sense from looking at some of the political science analyses of the 2008 campaign is that he may have gained about 1 percent in the final vote by garnering more black support than a white Democrat would have gotten, but that he lost about 5 percent of the vote by getting less white support than a white Democrat would have gotten – for a net minus of about four. Four points in a presidential race is a lot.

As an historical matter, it is striking that Obama’s racial penalty has not been higher. As a political matter, the question of whether the penalty will still be that high in 2012 may make all the difference in who wins the White House. Or maybe, one study suggests, the penalty might be even higher.

(The picture here, by the way, is from a 2009 study showing that the less favorable on-line respondents were to Obama, the more likely they were to pick the darkened picture of him as the accurate one.)

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Voting Violence

One of the simmering issues of the political summer is the court battle over voter identification laws in many Republican-governed states. Requirements that voters present photo IDs, such as drivers’ licenses, and other constraints, such as curtailing early voting, promise to reduce the number of poor, elderly, and minority voters in those states. One of the hardest tasks supporters of the new restrictions have is to keep a straight face when claiming that these changes have nothing to do with partisan politics, with reducing Democratic votes.

Registering 1960 (Tennessee Encycl.)

No doubt, some trickery comes from both sides – for example, encouraging college students to register at school or at home depending on where their votes will make the most difference, or ignoring the people who vote twice because they have residences in two states. One’s position on the ID debate should depend on whether your principle is “better ten legitimate voters disenfranchised than one illegitimate voter casting a ballot” or vice-versa. But people’s actual positions depend on whose voters are being turned away.

As this struggle unfolds, it recalls an old American tradition of voting fraud, voting suppression, and voting violence.

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Virtuous Voting

As the 2012 campaigns start to accelerate, they strive to motivate their supporters – to get them off their passive posteriors, get them to talk up the party candidates, and at least get them to vote. Political scientists and political practitioners have learned that American elections, with their abysmal turnouts, are typically won not by the side that does the best job of changing people’s minds, but by the side that does the best job of getting out its vote.

The problem of mobilizing one’s partisans raises a long-standing puzzle, the political scientists’ old chestnut: Why should anyone bother to vote, given that the chances of his or her single vote changing an election and that election in turn significantly changing the voter’s life is virtually zero?

Washington LC-H813-1532

The Founding Fathers stressed Civic Virtue — citizens of a Republic must put the common interest ahead of their own. George Washington’s return to public service as president serves as the classic example. Because the Fathers assumed that only men of property could be sufficiently educated, be sufficiently motivated by the public good rather than by private gain, and, unlike women, servants, apprentices, tenants, etc., be sufficiently independent to make their own choices, then only such men could attain Civic Virtue and therefore only such men should vote. Alas, they found out that even gentlemen often had corrupt interests, enough to corrupt voters.

An irony of our age is that, in effect, we expect everyone to exemplify Civic Virtue.

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What Works? Votes.

One hears a lot these days, particularly from those on the left who are disappointed by the last few years, that electoral politics do not work  – or do not work any more. It is given as a reason for some to be apathetic and a reason for others to engage in direct action.

memory.loc.gov

It is an odd claim, since the efficacy of electoral politics is evident all around us. The problem for the discouraged is that sometimes they just don’t have the votes to effect the change they want – which is especially likely to be true if they don’t vote.

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Win Stay, Lose Change

As I post this on the evening of Nov. 2, 2010, the election returns are yet to come in.

Source: theocean via flickr

Still the wise guys who run the numbers (like this guy and that guy) have already made it clear that the Republicans will do very well tonight. Tonight also marks the end of all the sophisticated analysis of what will happen and why and the start of all the sophisticated analysis of what did happen and why. In the end, it’s all pretty simple: Win stay, lose change.

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Why Vote?


Source: Irechis via Flickr

The three basic principles for winning elections seem to be: turnout, turnout, and turnout.

Political science research suggests that relatively few voters’ minds are changed during the campaign, so winning depends mainly on getting your supporters to actually vote. As election day approaches, concern arises again about how many Americans cared enough to register and how many will care enough to turn out. That concern picked up in the last decades of the 20th century as voting turnout dropped from its modern high point in 1960 (see figure below).

There are complexities involved in calculating turnouts (see, notably, here). For one, adding 18-to-20-year-olds to the voter base in 1972 helped pull down the turnout rate (initially in the years marked by diamonds in the figure above). Still, there was a real fall-off in voting from 1960 into the 1980s, in spite of some efforts to make voting easier, such as DMV registration and mail-in ballots. A small industry of scholars have worked on trying to explain that drop: Did would-be voters get turned off by the political turmoil of the ‘60s, by growing media cynicism about politics, by general social alienation, or what?

That decline, however, is a minor fluctuation compared to much larger ups and downs in Americans turning out to vote. A look at that history might suggest what gets Americans out to vote.
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