Saturday, March 12, 2016

Verity, Verity, I say unto you...(Or Maloderous Maxims of Mystery)

Demographics would suggest that most non-voters would likely not support GOP candidates if they did vote. Reality may be altogether different though.
We all have truths, or beliefs at least that we adhere to.
I'd like to think that personally, when presented with new information; I would be inclined to adjust my beliefs to take this new information into account.  It would seem that I've had an epiphany of late regarding a long held belief that does not seem to stand in light of observable reality. This belief is a common one, especially among folks with liberal political sensibilities. It has a reasonable theory behind is the postulation that most non-voters would benefit from Democratic policies, so if turnout were increased it would help get more Democrats in office. It's a common belief among conservatives too, as great effort has been put into suppressing the vote by the right. But let's have a closer look at what we know about these "non voters".  Empirical reality may be very different than the way we perceive it.

     As we can ascertain from the Pew Research Center data in the chart above, demographically speaking we might say that these were likely Democratic voters. However there are basically 2 kinds of non-voter. There are those who are the "meh" type, who don't care or know much about policies or how it effects them. And there are those who feel disengaged from the process for various reasons.
These reasons range from historical oppression, to viewing refraining from voting is a protest of some sort.  As we look a little closer at non-voters, this belief I (and many others ) hold about getting them to vote making a big difference in the outcome of elections may be entirely erroneous.

Eligible non voters numbered 80,632,506 in the 2008 election, a larger number than people who voted for either party. (59,934,814 voted for the Republican candidate, 69,456,897 voted for the Democratic candidate).

     Before digging deeper I apologize for focusing on American politics here, but the data I'm talking about is gathered about the U.S.  We can't assume it applies internationally, but it may or at least some of it may. You'll have to form your own view on that. 
     In 2014, research was conducted on political beliefs of non voters by PEW and they found that despite big differences in demographics, (most non voters are under 30, have incomes below 31K annually, and are  non-Caucasian), there wasn't a significant difference in the makeup of their political views from the actual voters. 

As you can see, the non voter's views on the president, and on both political parties seem to be divided about the same as the views of voters.

On most matters, the opinions are divided similarly among non voters compared to voters, or the general population. Except it seems we make assumptions that may not be so. We assume that these people would vote based on their stated positions. In truth one area they do tend to show a divert from the voting public on is actually knowing what is going on. (68% of likely voters have given some thought to the election, while only 13% of non voters have given any thought to it. 77% of likely voters follow public affairs while only 13% of non-voters do).

     Yes, I know that is rather disillusioning, and contrary to intuition.  I think we can all agree that many voters don’t fully understand the effects of the policies proposed  by various candidates or political parties. For instance in conversations I have had with the public at large, Bernie Sanders is often perceived as an extravagant spender while the republican candidates are considered fiscal conservatives, even though the republican tax plans expand revenue shortfalls, create deficits, and widen the income gap. (Historical fact)
     While Sanders’ proposed spending programs are demonstrably affordable and can mostly be covered by simply eliminating ludicrous wasteful tax loopholes

    Yet generally the  voter who primarily is concerned with balancing budgets is far more likely to support republicans than they are Bernie Sanders. They’re making this judgement on "folklore"   instead of doing the research necessary for a well-informed opinion. There are many issues similar to this where people’s stated policy preferences are not actually reflected in their votes.
Among women and black voters for instance, Hillary Clinton is leading Sanders although Sanders has a more vigorous concrete record of supporting policies that aid these groups, especially on the economic front.   If "voters" can be profoundly uninformed about which candidates and policies will actually accomplish their objectives, non-voters are absolutely less informed by their own descriptions of themselves in this research. This is reflected currently in the reality that non-voters are far more likely to support Donald Trump.

    So what does all this mean? Simply that it may be a complete canard that getting more people to vote would be helpful. because the assumption that non-voters would vote rationally does not seem to be true.
So what would be helpful? Better information, or better informed voters.
How is that accomplished?
Well, I think an independent press would be a good start.
It does not bode well for the "4th Estate" when it is primarily in the hands of only 4 or 5 corporate owners, all with socioeconomic and political agendas contrary to public interest.

It may be that the downfall of democracy and the advent of corporate oligarchy is not the fault of the non voter, but rather the fault of uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed voters.

All charts and figures are from the Pew Research site.
For further reading...

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