Thursday, November 4, 2004

Election watch

/ elections / selections /
On Tuesday, OSCE observers called to oversee the elections taking place in the north American republic of Usa (after the serious problems observed in the previous elections), despite finding certain faults and facing some access issues, concluded that voting went smoothly and normally at most precincts.
The result in this embattled country saw the nationalist and christianist "Republican" party - whose leader, George W. Bush, is the son of a former ruler - winning through the support of the fundamentalist hinterland, while the modernizing urban centers and the coasts in general, went heavily for the "Democratic" party candidate. Despite the ferocity of the cultural battle, the majority of the country didn't bother to show up at the polls, pointing to a rather large democratic deficit. The vast masses of the economically destitute and the disaffected youth saw no hope in either candidate, struggling as they are under an asphyxiating neoliberal economic policy, which both candidates, to varying perhaps extent, were certain to continue.

As the elections were polarized, despite the low voter turnout (which however was high by the county's own standards), the defeated modernizers are somewhat dazed by an unexpected defeat, especially since most of the international community was solidly against the Republican leader (and indeed was shocked that he won). There is talk of secession and a redrawing of borders among the disappointed educated classes in Usa, but most regional analysts find these prospects unlikely. The possibility of a brain drain as the younger, more progressive educated classes seek to flee from the close-minded theocrats running the country (much as what has happened in similar cases in Iran and the Arab world), cannot be ruled out, especially considering the anti-rationalist overtones of the ruling party's platform, which has created problems for scientists and researchers in a variety of fields...
The re-elected Republican administration, is forecast to remain steady in its policies of a introducing theocratic elements to government, nationalist jingoism, cronyism, raising inequalities, increasing human rights violations and world domination.

1 comment:

talos said...

old comments

Doug Muir:

Despite the ferocity of the cultural battle, the majority of the country didn't bother to show up at the polls, pointing to a rather large democratic deficit.

…a clear majority of eligible voters showed up — about 60%. Highest turnout since 1968.

The vast masses of the economically destitute and the disaffected youth saw no hope in either candidate

Youth — the 18-24 crowd — voted at slightly higher levels than in the last couple of elections.

Their net turnout remained quite low, yes. But that's nothing new. The youth vote has been the Fata Morgana of American elections for ~30 years now, the shimmering will-o-wisp that will assure victory to the candidate who can, somehow, grasp it.

That age group just doesn't like to put down the remote, get off the phone, and vote. Never has and, probably, never will.

As to the economically destitute, question of definition there. The most bitterly poor — homeless people, the bottom decile — don't vote much. But the rest of the bottom quartile, yeah, they do. There's only a weak correlation between income and likelihood of voting, and it almost disappears if you snip off the top and bottom deciles.

Further: the rural-urban split is just as marked among lower-income voters as elsewhere. Poor city folks voted for Kerry; poor country folks voted for Bush. In about the same numbers and with about the same enthusiasm as everyone else.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike the outcome of this election. But a lack of democracy was not the problem.

Doug M.

2004-11-05 11:17

Doug: Record turnout: This isn't quite as cut and dry as you seem to suggest. Anyway, when was it that the turnout in British elections was 60% and everyone was lamenting the decline of public participation.
Youth: they voted at 10%. That's a serious problem. Whether its new or not doesn't make it less of a problem.
Correlation of income with likelyhood of voting: This 2000 article states the following about the 1996 elections:

"Income gaps translate into voting gaps. In the ten states with the smallest income gap, an average 57 percent of the voting age population turned out to vote in the 1996 presidential election, according to Federal Election Commission data. The ten states with the widest income gap had an average voter turnout of only 48 percent.

…Among the eligible citizen population, 76 percent of those with family incomes above $75,000 voted in 1996, the last presidential election. Only 63 percent of those with family incomes ranging from $35,000 to $49,999 and 57 percent of those in the $25,000-$34,999 range voted, according to the Census Bureau. Among those with family incomes under $10,000, just 38 percent voted.

Looking at turnout by occupation, 73 percent of those in managerial and professional jobs voted in 1996, compared with only 43 percent of those employed as operators, fabricators, and laborers. "

Rural-Urban gap: yes of course. The power of the evangelicals is huge among the rural poor. That's one of the things that makes them so bloody scary (remember who the rural poor vote for in Serbia?)

Lack of Democracy: I agree, lack of democracy was not more pronounced than ususal in this election. Generally I have a serious issue with any kind of "winner take all" electoral system, which by virtue of giving (programmatically) unequal weight to equal votes, is inherently udemocratic. I also tend to believe that a healthy democracy manages to convince the vast majority of its citizens, to at least come and vote every 4 years!

Note: the post was a tongue in cheek attempt to describe the US elections the same way elections in places like, say, Burundi (or indeed Serbia), are presented in Western newspapers.

Anyway, I think the best long term solution for the rise of Bush's type of conservatism, is the four years of unrestricted fucking up of all sorts of things people take for granted, that is going to follow… That will ensure that voters won't repeat the same mistake twice… That is if the bufoon doesn't destroy the planet or declare martial law sometime during the next four years.

2004-11-05 13:50
Doug Muir:

Turnout: your anarchy site seems to be incorrect. Either the professor's figures are wrong, or his math is.

The figures being thrown around are "just under 120 million voters" and "60%". Since there were just over 200 million eligible voters, that works.

The professor claims that 120 million voters = "56%", but I have to tell you that there are not 220 million eligible voters in the US. The census data gives the voting age population as 217.8 million. However, that includes a lot of people not eligible to vote, most notably convicted felons (about 2 million) and noncitizens (between 10 and 15 million).

Since the election was less than a week ago, and all the ballots haven't been counted yet (still 130,000 to go in Ohio alone) hard figures aren't in yet. But the most convincing estimate I've seen yet puts EVT at 57.8%.

That's higher than any election since '68. Which means it's the highest ever since the 28th amendment expanded the electorate by giving the vote to 18-21 year olds.

If you'd like to make another bet, we can wait until, say, Inauguration Day (early January) and then use the results from the Federal Election Commission and/or some non-partisan group such as the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. I'll bet that the final turnout will be in excess of 57.5% of all eligible voters.

Correlation of income with likelyhood of voting: This 2000 article states the following about the 1996 elections:

Here's some more recent data. Note the obvious pattern: voter turnout tended to be lower in Southern and Western states. Texas, West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Nevada all had turnouts of less than 45%. It tended to be highest in liberal northern states like Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont — all closer to 65%. Fairly huge difference, no?

It's impossible to sort out cause and effect, but I strongly suspect that low voter turnout is not caused by high income inequality. Rather, both high inequality and low turnout are caused by the relatively crap political cultures of the West and (especially) the South. Both those regions have long been dominated by conservative political and business elites pushing a small-government ideology as a way to keep those on top safely in the saddle. (In the case of the Deep South, that goes back over 200 years.) Government is inherently suspect, and even local liberals despise it as a tool of the elites. So, no surprise that turnout is low.

In Greater New England, OTOH, citizen participation has always been deeply ingrained in the political culture — this is the part of the country that gave us the Mayflower Compact and the town meeting. Unsurprisingly, these tend to be high-tax states with a strong tradition of clean and competent government.

Note that the two weird outliers fit this schema perfectly. Alaska was settled late, and never developed the typical Western pattern of a small elite dominating the state's major industries (cattle, mining, oil, whatever) and so running politics. Instead, it was settled from places like Minnesota and Oregon, and so developed a much more New England-ish political culture: egalitarian, participatory. And although the state prides itself on its libertarianism, small-government ideology never really caught on. So, despite that fact that it's an extremely Republican state, voter turnout is always high.

Contrariwise, Hawaii was settled in a classic "Southern" pattern. Once the native Hawaiians had been marginalized, the island was transformed into a plantation economy in which a few rich sugar and coffee planters owned pretty much everything. (At statehood, 50 years ago, the Dole family alone owned 40% of Hawaii's land.) Despite much talk of democracy, Hawaiian politics has never been participatory in the New England sense, and has tended to veer between "business as usual" among the elites and occasional frustrated outbursts of populism. Thus, despite Hawaii being a Democratic state, turnout there is almost always low.

Final point: Alaska and Hawaii excepted, there was always a strong correlation at the state level between low turnout and voting Republican. This led many analysts to believe that higher turnout would favor the Democrats. As it turned out, this was incorrect. Higher turnout just meant more of the same.

Note: the post was a tongue in cheek attempt to describe the US elections

Yes, I caught that.

Doug M.

2004-11-08 08:41

Quibble… from the infoshop site above:
""If preliminary estimates of 120 million votes prove accurate, the final turnout rate among eligible voters could reach 59 percent," Althaus said. "In comparison, since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, the highest level of recorded turnout was registered in 1992, when 61 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.""

The question is: does the correlation between income and voter turnout remain the same across the country? I mean yes, Mass. has a higher turnout than Arizona, but is income a good predictor of relative voter tirnout in both states? I'm sure there's data on that somewhere, but I'll come back to it, possibly, later…

2004-11-08 10:35