The 50 State Strategy is Good for Democracy and the Poor

>> Sunday, June 15, 2008

I have to confess that I have not read Kos’ book. I actually went to buy it once but it was not in stock. All of this may be in his book but I have no idea. What I am going to write about is the effect of the 50 state strategy not on the electoral prospects of the Democratic Party but on the effect on the American Democracy as a whole. When politicos talk about electoral strategy and where to commit resources they take into consideration where they can make the best use of them to get their candidates and future candidates elected. What people do not seem to realize is that the expansion of the electoral map in a presidential campaign makes for a better democracy.

Kos has actually touched on this when he talks about the benefits of the primary. The benefits he cites are increased registration and the building of party infrastructure. What those two things represent is involvement. Those two things are about people becoming involved and engaged in the political process. The long and contested primary built up excitement and involvement in every state and territory it touched. The side effect of this increase in involvement is better knowledge and the increased likelihood of future participation. Once the initial barrier to involvement is breached the resistance becomes less each cycle until participation becomes the habit and not the exception.

One benefit that goes unremarked upon is an increase in voting among the lower income demographics.

“As acknowledged by political scientists and pundits alike, American voters comprise an unrepresentative sample of the nation; they are older, more affluent, better educated, and more likely to be white than they would be if everyone were to participate at equal rates”. (Gimpel et al 2007 787)

The problem with having this group make the decisions for everyone is that more often than not they make the decisions out of their own self interest. For people who do not fit this narrow cross section of America they are being left out of the process. These people are people who need the most help as they are typically at the bottom of the food chain, the poor, the minorities the young. These voices and interests were being neither herd nor represented. Having large segments of a countries population go unrepresented is not good for Democracy and does not contribute to a healthy polity. There are fewer people interested in keeping the government honest and holding it accountable.

More and more people were being left behind in the 90's because the prevailing electoral strategy and tactics were reinforcing the negative habits instead of correcting them. There are three basic reasons why people do not participate in politics. The reasons are that they can’t because they

lack necessary resources, they don’t want to because they lack sufficient interest or knowledge, and nobody asked them to because they fall outside of the traditional networks that rally voters (Gimpel et al 2007 787). The failure of the 90's affected all three of these reasons. The 90's saw the rise of large media ad buys and the atrophication of local and state party infrastructure. There was a focus on appealing to those voters with a solid reputation for turn out ignoring any idea of growing the base or targeting less traditionally vocal groups. The 50 state strategy is changing this.

Modern campaign tactics use technology to great effectiveness. Computerized voter lists, demographic patterns, the internet and email allow savy campaigns the ability to contact and organize more voters more efficiently than ever before. Combine these with grass root efforts to get everyone, lower income voters included, involved allows for increased political participation and thus a better democracy.

The premise is simple enough. The more people are involved with political campaigns and the political process the better citizens they become. Presidential campaigns are the biggest, most interesting, and best equipped to get people involved. Thus the more states the Presidential campaign is heavily active in the more people will become better citizens. This is why the 50 state strategy is better than the typical DLC Ohio-Florida-Penn strategy. Limiting the Presidential campaign to a very few states greatly reduces the contact voters out side of these traditional battleground states will have with the campaigns. Over the period of a few cycles these effects will accumulate and reduce the breadth of the voting demographic.

The recent research bears this difference between low income voters in battle ground vs non-battleground states out. 2004 might be considered the early development of the internet and computer campaigning combined with grass roots effort.

The conditional effects indicate that poor voters who live in battleground states report significantly
higher political interest levels than their low income brethren in safe states, particularly so in 2004. (Gimpel et al 2007 791)

On a 100 point scale they found a 9 point difference between the low income voters in bg vs nbg states when it comes to political interest. They also found that the contact levels for the low income voters in 2004 was different between those with traditional voter profiles and those without. The difference in contact between bg and nbg states for low income voters was a spectacular 36% in 2004. In competitive states the poor are being brought into the voting public but not in states considered safe. This obviously reduces their over all voice and representation weakening our Democracy.

There are other findings that reveal the importance of the campaigns presence in the state. Campaign involvement is 7 to 8 percentage points higher among low-income voters in the most competitive states in 2004 than it is in the safe states. An eight percentage point increase in turn out or participation in a group could have a major impact on an election. A consistent increase would more than likely lead politicians to consider the wants and needs of this group in a very serious way.

The divide between the bg and nbg states cannot be stressed enough. In the states where resources are committed people become more interested and participate more. In those bg states we get closer the classical picture of the citizen as an informed and enthusiastic participant in Democracy. In nbg states we see the apathy among the lower income citizens continue unchecked. The 50 state strategy will go some way towards changing this. What has started out as a means to get more and better democrats will bring with a better democracy simply by including and engaging a wider segment of the populace.

It all seemed very intuitive and yet the effect of the 50 state strategy on our Democracy was not something i had thought about. Sure if it gets the Republicans out of office then it is good for our country but it also increases the type of people the democrats will represent. It will give us a progressive majority. Corporate Dems will have a harder time getting elected if the poor actually become a political force. Our Democracy will be better of when it truly represents all of us and not just the rich old white Americans.

Ok, so this really is my last diary before my vacation.

James G. Gimpel, Karen M. Kaufmann, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz (2007) Battleground States versus Blackout States: The Behavioral Implications of Modern Presidential Campaigns
The Journal of Politics 69 (3) , 786–797


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