(In Part 1 I blogged about the Great American Stupid. In Part 2, about voting numbers and trends. In Part 3, about the foul antics of corporate media.)
Voter suppression is a despicable, unconscionable thing. Voting is a fundamental right in a democracy, so if it was up to me, leaders of the “voter ID” movement would face federal prosecution for denial of civil rights. But it’s not up to the likes of me. Bummer.
That being said, the actual, practical effect of voter suppression in elections so far is tough to figure. Wisconsin has been noted as a place in the last election where the result may have been swung because of it.
While states with no change to voter identification laws witnessed an average increased turnout of +1.3% from 2012 to 2016, Wisconsin’s turnout (where voter ID laws changed to strict) dropped by -3.3%. If turnout had instead increased by the national- no-change average, we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016. For context, Clinton lost to Trump in Wisconsin by only 20,000 votes.
The most glaring problem with the report and how it’s being interpreted, (Yale poli sci Assistant Prof. Eitan) Hersh told me by phone, is that the firm behind the analysis decided to operate at a surface level when it almost certainly had the data and expertise to dig much deeper. “Civis presents itself as a very sophisticated analytics shop,” Hersh said, “and yet the analysis they’re offering here is rather blunt.”
The group relied largely on state-by-state and county-by-county comparisons to reach its conclusions, but it could have—and Hersh maintains, should have—conducted a more granular analysis. Civis could have isolated communities that straddle the border between two states, for instance, or even used a comprehensive voter file to compare similar individuals that do and don’t live in states with new voter ID laws. Doing either would have allowed Civis to eliminate variables that may have ultimately skewed its findings. “It’s very weird to do an analysis the way they did when they presumably had a better way to do it,” Hersh said. “That’s a red flag that jumps out right away.”
We need, of course, to fight all the kinds of voter suppression chronicled by Berman and others, and that my colleague Joan McCarter and I have aggregated and commented on in the War on Voting feature and other posts over the past year and previously. But we should not fool ourselves into believing that voter suppression is the biggest reason we lost (on Election Day). There were many factors, and coming to grips with them is going to require major adjustments in our thinking going forward, both ideologically and strategically.
Making those adjustments will first of all require admitting our own mistakes instead of focusing on the mistakes of others. It will require assessing what’s been wrong with our thinking, our approach, our efforts to persuade and organize. It will require choosing what we must change if we are going to limit the grave damage done to the nation by (the) outcome and give hope to people who will be the victims of President Trump—including many who voted for him.
The real effect of the broadsides of political advertising to which voters are subjected, in the wake of the odious Citizens United SCOTUS decision, is even tougher to figure. It’s not as if one can find a control group, that has never seen political advertising, to use to ground a scientific investigation. And in fact I’ve been unable to find any such investigations.
(I googled “effect of citizens united on elections,” and fairly carefully perused the first ten pages, clicking on anything that looked to have potential. Rather a pain, I must say. I did find a couple of items, here and here, purporting to find a measurable impact. (The latter is just the public abstract of a firewalled paper.) But they didn’t look at how voters are psychologically responding to the unending deluge of attacks, which is what I think is the key piece, here.)
Yes, insane amounts of money are being spent. But how much actual effect is it having on voters? Clinton spent far more on TV advertising. And we did net a couple of Senate seats despite all of the $ poured into attack ads against our candidates in those.
At least for now, my take is that the primary effect of unrestricted spending is in reinforcing the behavior of non-voters, by making the whole system look hopelessly corrupt. But, as with voter suppression, that is just one factor among many.
One of the clear lessons of history (I read a lot of it) is that when a group achieves the apex of wealth and power, they will do anything to stay there. Threats to the status of ultra-privileged, greedhead, war pig narcissists bring out their most extreme, even lethal, impulses. People should stay cognizant of that.
Eric Ferguson: My thinking on spending is that there’s a maximum utility to it, and any spending above that level is just wasted. Just where that level is exactly is a mystery, but it seems presidential races are past that level. There’s research suggesting sending on TV ads is mostly a waste and most presidential campaign expense is TV ads, so I suspect those two things go together. On a lower level however, I suspect big spending has a more positive effect. Maybe US senate races hit the maximum utility level, but below that, probably big spending still gives an advantage. For amounts of money that are small to crank billionaires and dark money groups, they can have a huge impact on local races. I’ve heard of local races and referenda where the Koch brothers intervened, and the relatively huge amounts of spending cam mostly from them, but to the Kocks it was just walking around money.