Monday, November 03, 2014

Do Not Forget to Vote, Unless, of Course, You Don't Want To

Today is Monday, Tuesday 3, 2014. Tomorrow is Tuesday, Tuesday 4, 20104, election day.

For the first time in my life, I have never received a single mailed political advertisement for this election. I have not received a single phone call regarding this election, not even from one of those robots who call. I have not had a single party committee person or campaign volunteer ask for my vote.

I am reminded how the late U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill entitled his autobiography “All Politics is Local”. O’Neill came to that realization when he was running for Congress. After he saw someone he knew had voted, he expressed his presumption that she had just voted for him. She told him she had not voted for him. Stunned, he asked why she has not voted for him. She told him she did not vote for him because he never asked for her vote.

Politics used to involve human interaction. As much as I have criticized “machine politics” over the years, there was a low cost effective simplicity to it. Your local committee people of both parties would see you received written information about the candidates. They would speak with you and answer questions. You would go vote at the polls and your committee people would be there to greet you and answer any more questions (keeping the proper distance away from the polling entrance).Over time, if the committee people are good, you learn to trust them and their perspectives. The committee people would keep tabs on who has voted and towards the end of the day would have people run out and remind people of their political party who have not voted that it is election day and let them know how much time they have to vote.

Several studies indicated that effective committee people might improve the vote totals for their candidates by perhaps five to ten percentage points over the vote totals in similar areas where they were not effective committee people. Thus seems like a lot of work to get just a handful of extra votes. Yet those percentages are often the difference between defeat and victory.

A key to all this is, while it involved a lot of work, it did not involve a lot of money. This was low cost grass roots politics at its best.

If Tip O’Neill were to write his autobiography today, it might be titled “No Politics is Local”. There are some remnants of the human interaction type of politics, yet that is becoming rarer. I once address a local political organization about the committee people system and their response was mostly “it sounds like too much work.” I was then loudly lambasted by a state party official who told how politics now depends all on media,fund raising,and that what I had suggested was a waste of time.

That state party official correctly identified what politics has since become. Politics is virtually all media advertising. The vast majority of commercials (as verified by the Annenberg School of Communications) are negative ads. Politics is us watching the television and learning how bad the candidates are.

The Citizens United decision by the U.S Supreme Court has vastly increased campaign advertising. Their ruling that there can be no limits on how much one spends on a political campaign or issue has allowed those with wealth and access to wealth to dominate the media with campaign advertising. Again, much of it is negative advertising telling us what is wrong with a candidate.

If the press is trying to figure out why voter turn out is low tomorrow, I present my views above. People are not given as many reasons as to why they should vote for candidates. Further, at least in my part of Harrisburg, no one has not asked us to vote for them. (I do have one exception. I saw Linda Thompson and she asked me to vote for her. Otherwise, I have not seen a representative of any candidate nor received a single piece of campaign literature. Of course, there have been an avalanche of television ads.)

We need laws restraining and hopefully eventually overturning the damages Citizens United has done. We need to tell candidates to give us more reasons why we should vote for them rather than telling us why we should not vote for their opponents. It might even help that grass roots politics returns. While it will take time, I do believe some future Harrisburg political leader will figure that out. 


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