The Participation Conundrum: Lead or Follow?
After looking at many polls that show Kerry and Bush neck and neck, Democrats often sigh ruefully at voter participation statistics: in Election 2000, 51.3% of eligible voters actually cast a ballot. If only more people voted, the reasoning goes, Democrats would win many more races, for generally the demographics they represent (the poor, women and minorities) have poor participation rates.
As a politician, though, catering to groups that donít vote is empirically suicidal. Taking a position always engenders risk, and if the opposition exploits it with real votes and the politician has nobody to back him or her up, why should they do it?
A potential voter, though, wonít participate if he or she perceives a politician is offering them nothing. The system stays stuck in complacency and disregard, neither side willing to sacrifice and take risks to build a constituency.
Melanie Mattsoon links to Anna Quindlen, ruing the fact that 20 million unmarried women didnít vote in 2000. Kerry could reel in a great many in, they reason, if he offered an agenda that was compelling. Will he? Doubtful. If they didnít vote before heís not going to build an agenda for them with no potential gain in the end.
Somebody has to break out this cycle of apathy, and for now I think the politicians and party has to do it. If they could pull it off they could permanently alter the political structures of the country for at least a generation.
Iíd personally like to see Kerry just massively push for organizing enforcement so Walmart can be unionized. Just that small step would do a great deal of good and bring in many new voters. Low-income people have been given no rallying cry to vote, but this would surely be one.
Politicians are notoriously cautious people, so Iím not holding my breath. Kerry doesnít even fight hard for elections to be on a Sunday or made a national holiday, even though this one step would likely guarantee his win. Participation requires leadership, and leadership requires risk and bravery. Asking a politician to do that for people who donít vote is going to keep us stuck in terrible participation rates.