When it comes to voting, it’s not all about that base


By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (Voting Day (phone) // Day -056) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, via Wikimedia Commons

Senior citizens and college students, Wall Street bankers and the religious right, Southerners and African Americans, industrial magnates and union workers: if you’re in one of those groups, and a handful of others, chances are either Republicans or Democrats think they can already count on your vote on election day. They call those monoliths the base, the reliable support upon which the party can build their outreach during any given election. They count on their respective bases not just for their principled, philosophical allegiance, but also for their vote.

There is an often repeated meme in American politics, and that is the more people who show up at the polls, the greater the chances that Democrats will win. The past two elections – the 2014 midterms and the 2015 so-called “off year” elections, last Tuesday – bare that out, if only . In both cases, only about thirty percent of registered voters bothered to show up and cast a ballot. In both cases, the Republicans scored major victories at the state and national level.

Some blame the low turnout on voter apathy. That’s a chickenshit way to look at it, don’t you think? It’s like the Democrats are saying, “Hey it’s not our fault. It’s our lazy ass base.” But it’s not just apathy. Apathetics know there’s an election, but don’t care. This is a case of voter ignorance, where American citizens are blissfully unaware of both the fact there was an election and the stakes in that election.

“Democrats are looking for voters,” MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, said last week, during her intro as guest host on The Last Word, after the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ had a disastrous election day for the second straight year. Presumably, she was referring to the Dems frustration at getting out the vote for their slate of candidates, and when politicians talk about getting out the vote, these days, they’re almost always referring to the base. After all, it’s cheaper and easier to knock on the same doors every couple of years, where previously reliable voters live, than to launch an uncertain campaign for new voters.

But Wagner’s brief analysis speaks more truthfully the latter. “Democrats are looking for voters.”

It could be argued that President Obama won in 2008 primarily because his campaign motivated more voters. He didn’t really expand the base; he got people who don’t usually vote, in any election, excited to vote.

In a season where politics as usual seems to be anything but, it would be good if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the party she directs figured out how to reach voters who will likely sit out this election, unless significant changes are made. As I mentioned in an earlier post, political psychologist, Dr. Drew Westen, says the two most important questions a voter asks about a given candidate, in descending order, are: “How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?” and “How does this candidate make me feel?”

Issues questions are the last on thing on most voters minds. That’s why for all of Hillary Clinton’s political experience and gravitas, she fails where Bernie Sanders succeeds – getting voters excited and keeping them excited.

Columnist H. A. Goodman wrote, Monday, that only Bernie can get him to vote, next year. Citing polls that show “Sanders defeats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton in a general election,” and “the same people who say they’d vote for Clinton if the election were today are also the same people who state they don’t trust Clinton,” and noting that Hillary has “evolved towards Republican viewpoints on war, foreign policy, Wall Street, and other issues,” Goodman concludes, “I’m only voting for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump.” He then goes on to list his reasons.

The point is, he’s not alone, and it goes right to Dr. Westen’s analysis of a successful candidate.

Frankly, I understand Goodman’s stance. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I am enrolled by his passion and authenticity. But, I’m afraid if we abandon the vote because our guy isn’t part of it, we will end up with Nixon, at best, G.W. Bush, at worst.

You don’t want to vote? Tough. Vote anyway. Of course she’s not progressive enough, but dance with the one who has the best chance of at least aiming toward sharing your goals, if you can’t take a turn with the one that brought you. Bill Maher described it on his show, Real Time, a few weeks ago, this way. After polling his audience and finding out they were overwhelmingly for Sanders over Clinton, he asked, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, who will stay home and not vote for Hillary?” Nothing but coughs from the audience. “Exactly,” he responded, “it’s like the airlines. We have two good candidates. Sometimes, you don’t get the fish, you have the chicken.”

-PBG

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