"Election season has come and gone", well maybe not so much. It is always election season with some of us. I confess to being an election junkie. I have checked David Wasserman's tally every day since Veteran's Day and I checked on the status of every undecided House race until the last one was decided. While the tabulations are not complete, the general picture is there--Obama won comfortably. Against pretty strong odds, Democrats gained in the Senate and facing headwinds created by gerrymandering, Democrats also gained in the House, but not nearly enough to overcome the blowout loss of 2010.
Much time and ink has been spent exploring the how and why of the election of 2012, and I think there is linkage between several issues that progressives need to address in order to make our election system fairer and more representative going forward. Much more after the break.
There are several factors in why elections have swung so wildly in the past four years. Obama won big in 2008, and had a solidly Democratic Congress, then Republicans had an historic victory in 2010, getting a huge majority in the House, paring down the Democratic advantage in the Senate, and claiming many statehouses and state legislatures along the way. Now, Obama wins easily, Democrats make gains at all levels, but not back to pre-2010 levels. What's the deal?
My view is that the swings are all about who votes. First of all, it should be noted that participation is never high enough. National turnout never reaches even 65% in a presidential election year and has been stuck in the 30s in off-years since 1970. With the exception of Clinton's second term win, it is clear that higher turnouts benefit Democrats. Beyond that, I would state that higher turnouts benefit the country. The more people that participate, the more that make an investment in deciding what the government should do.
As a practical matter, if turnout were raised 5-10%, Democrats would be solid favorites in all states Obama won plus a few that he didn't compete in--Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri. I submit that since Reagan at least, no Republican has truly been a majority choice of all eligible voters. It is both good government and good politics for Democrats to somehow get turnout up. How to do this? Follow the lead of states with high turnout--make registration fast and easy or best, allow same-day registration. Have polls open sufficient hours on election day to avoid long lines and delays or better, permit early voting. Finally, have a vital two-party system for the state. If people are convinced that their vote matters, they are far more likely to vote.
Voter turnout is down this year, only a few million, out of about 130 million votes, but allowing about a 1% per year increase in eligible voters, that means turnout was down more like 5%, not a good number. Why? I think many see politics as a game of the "haves", more think that their vote doesn't matter, and many more have other things to occupy their lives. These factors, plus a coordinated effort by conservatives to suppress the vote have kept turnout relatively low in the modern era. Much more to say about this in Part II of my diary to be published later this week.