Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rocking the Vote?

I am very much in favor of increasing voting turnout, especially youth voter turnout. In fact, my job focuses on this very goal. But Sean raises some very good questions. I will start with the last one first.

And what do you all make of "Team America: World Police"-co-creator Matt Stone's remark in the press, "If you don't know what you're talking about, there's no shame in not voting"? Seems almost Jeffersonian (though not Jacksonian).

The assertion here seems to me fundamentally sound. A person who actively chooses is essentially saying that they are willing to abide by the decisions of the more informed (there are some problems in practice with this a priori, but if everyone who voted was informed there wouldn't be). But I do have one large caveat to the prior statement. While there is no shame in admitting your lack of knowledge and thus not voting, there is some amount of shame in not making an effort to learn about your regime (getting to know what your are talking about).

Those who don't vote because they think that some expert knowledge is necessary and that they aren't sophisticated enough to understand politics are wrong. I would like to put aside the arguments of political scientists like Ben Barber about the rationality of the public as an unnecessary position to take to defend the "less informed vote." Some voters need to stop self-selecting out of the process. Many do know enough and their fear at the vast knowledge of others is largely unfounded. As Walter Lippmann wrote in The Phantom Public, "I have not happened to meet anybody, from a President of the United States to a professor of political science, who came anywhere near to embodying the accepted ideal of the sovereign and omnicompetent citizen." Other people usually know less than we give them credit for.

That being said, there is still some level of minimal knowledge that a citizen should strive for before going to vote. The best place to start is with an understanding of one's own desires, their self-motivated interests, combined with their idea of a just society. Once this thought process is completed the voter should research which candidate best addresses these concerns. This does take some effort and there is no shame in the person who thinks that historically everything has been okay left in the hands of the other members of the electorate. In fact, in some ways that is an educated opinion.

As to the initial question of the role of celebrity in "getting out the vote" and influencing elections. I am hosting a Townhall meeting on the very subject, and Matt Welch of Reason magazine (among others) will be participating. That is, if he can overcome the fact that Fritz has no appreciation for his sense of humor.

I would like to leave it at that and make you wait until after the event for my answer, but I won't. I do reserve the right to change my answer based on reflection after the panel discussion.

I think celebrities trying to get out the vote is a great concept...poorly executed. I think that genuine non-profit attempts to increase the electorate and educate them about the voting process are noble efforts of citizenship. Alas, this is not what is usually done. A genuine attempt (in a non-partisan fashion) to increase turnout would work in one of three ways, as I see it.

  • 1) Work on the local level only, due to financial limitations.

  • 2) Work on a broad national scale, due to unlimited resources

  • 3) Target those States with the lowest turnout historically

  • The most recent efforts, the large ones (RTV and Vote or Die!), did none of the above. Though I imagine they might claim the second. What they did was have an assumption that young voters where largely liberal, an assumption that was proved to be overstated in the recent election, and would vote for a specific candidate. Thus these efforts targeted their mobilization in the "swing states" instead of in states with historic low turnout. This makes it baffling to mobilize in a state like Minnesota and not in Vermont. Vermont? Don't they have high voter turnout? Yes, but not among the young. In 2002, an off year election, Vermont had 57% turnout. This is a very high rate and has Vermont ranked 9th highest. But only 13% of voters 18-24 turned out in that election in Vermont. Was P-Diddy trying to increase Vermont's youth vote? No way. Heck Minnesota had 52% youth turnout in 2002. Why would anyone mobilize there instead of North Carolina at 14%? The answer is simple. The efforts weren't non-partisan.

    Here is a list of "Tour Dates" for the RTV bus in late October to November:

    10/26 Orlando, FL University of Central Florida-Front of the Student Union (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/26 Milwaukee, WI Canvassing w/ Project Stay High School Students Open to Public**
    10/26 Orlando,Fl. Bennigan's Courtyard 11650 University Blvd (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/27 Jacksonville, FL. Edwards Waters College , 105 E. Monroe Corner (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/28 Tallahassee Florida A&M University-Ctr. Courtyard (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/29 Gainesville, FL. Dowtown Plaza, 12 SE 1st St. (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/29 Milwaukee, WI Poll Rides with Citizen Action Fund 11:00am-4:30pm Select a type
    10/29 Milwaukee, WI Silver Spring Public Neighborhood Housing Project 5:00pm-6:00pm Open to Public**
    10/30 Ft. Lauderdale, FL African America Research Library,2650 Sistrunk Blvd. (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/31 Green Bay, WI Terror on the Fox Haunted House - 6pm-closing
    (off hwy 172, next to stadium) Open to Public**
    10/31 Milwaukee, WI Trick or Vote Univ. of WI- Milwaukee dorms 11:00am-3:00pm Select a type
    10/31 Orlando, FL Trick or Vote Community Canvas, Greater Orlando (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    10/31 Milwaukee, WI Poll Rides with WICAF 3:00pm- 8:00am Open to Public**
    11/01 Tampa, FL. Tampa St. Pete. Community Canvas (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    11/02 Tampa, FL. Tampa Sun Dome-Universy of Southern Florida (RTV Scion) Open to Public**
    11/02 Milwaukee, WI GOTV Rally at Univ. Wisconsin 12:00pm-1:30pm Open to Public**
    11/02 Racine, WI GOTV Rally Racine Memorial Hall 7:00am-9:00am Open to Public**
    11/02 Milwaukee, WI Poll Rides with WICAF 3:00pm- 8:00am Open to Public**

    The "New Voter's Project" targeted the following States: CO, IA, OR, WI, NM, NV. Each of these States had the following difference in voter turnout between 18-24 year olds and those 25+:

    CO 34% (25+ voted at a rate 34% higher than 18-24)
    IA 33%
    OR 35%
    WI 32%
    NM 37%
    NV 29%

    Compare this to AZ, DE, ME, NC, TX, VT, and WA.

    AZ 40%
    DE 41%
    ME 41%
    NC 40%
    TN 42%
    VT 51%
    WA 43%

    And Minnesota? 23%. This is one of the targetted States by RTV. It only has a 23% differential, and it has the highest average turnout in the nation! My limited States would have been the ones with the greatest difference between youth and older voter turnout. But that would have been non-partisan and included non-"swing" States like Vermont.

    Oh, and voting was significantly higher than in 2000. Not as a "proportion," but as a real percentage of youth population. About 50% voted in 2004 (young people) versus about 36% in 2000. Just more of everybody voted this time. Don't get me started on the fact that the media can't differentiate between Voting Age and Voting Eligible population. If a rich person makes more money a poor person has to get a raise as well for their "ratio" to remain the same, more of a raise if there is no "increase" in the gap between rich and poor.

    I guess the lack of difference in proportion is what you can expect when Bruce Springsteen is "Rocking" the "youth vote."

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