Monday, November 23, 2015

Make Voting a Condition of Public Assistance

David Atkins is an excellent analyst of Democratic voting behavior, especially at the local level, but I think he misses the obvious solution on this one.

If formerly Democratic strongholds in Eastern Kentucky are going repug because the working class votes and the poor don't, the solution is not to keep digging the bottomless hole of pandering to the middle class.

The solution is to get the poor who are not voting out to the polls to vote.

And the way to do that is to provide government assistance only to people who prove they are voting.

Repugs are so enamored of piling conditions on people who are starving and homeless; Democrats should propose this one and make repugs explain why not.

It's the turnout, stupid.

David Atkins at Political Animal:

Alex McGillis at the New York Times has one of the most intriguing and important pieces of political analysis I’ve seen in quite some time today. Most of us are familiar with analyses reliant on racial and cultural resentments to explain why poor white communities seem to vote against their own interests: voters with racist tendencies and those who fear the changing of social mores vote for Republicans in order to thumb their nose at minorities and coastal social liberals—even if the impact of conservative policies is worst in their own communities. But McGillis’ analysis suggests that conservative voters in these areas are just as resentful of their white neighbors on public assistance, and that most of the poor whites on public assistance aren’t voting for Republicans but have simply stopping voting altogether:
In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.
McGillis points to data showing that people who struggle economically are most likely to hold liberal views on economics, but are also least likely to vote. The more they need government help, the less connected they feel to their communities and the less interested they become in politics. Crucially, 57% of these nonvoters are white—mostly living in conservative communities.

In the meantime, those who vote Republican in these areas are the ones doing somewhat better economically who feel not just sublimated racism and generalized cultural resentment against coastal elites, but also direct anger at the increasing number of their neighbors and acquaintances in need of assistance:

Democrats don’t really have a good answer for this problem. As a matter of public policy, obviously reducing inequality and improving working-class economics broadly should make progressive politics more palatable in these communities. But that’s a long-term project. From a communications standpoint, if voters are willing to give away tax breaks to Wall Street while intentionally voting for policies that will throw their friends and neighbors into the street and deny them lifesaving medical care, there’s not much you can do.

These mostly suburban and rural communities are infused with a Calvinist ethic that attributes success to moral virtue and failure to moral weakness. The cultural and psychological pull of that doctrine is incredibly powerful and buoyed by hucksters preaching the prosperity gospel that God will make you rich if you are faithful enough and want it badly enough. This toxic stew creates an instinct to push down the person below them rather than up against the person above them, and transcends simple racism and cultural resentment at this point.

From a communications standpoint, one approach Democrats can and should take is to strongly promote policies that not only help those who have fallen through the cracks, but also those who have middle-class jobs as well. Many of those policies already exist, but are hidden from voters in the form of tax credits rather than direct transfers. A more radical analysis would suggest that the forces of mechanization and globalization may require a universal basic income that would supplement the incomes of the employed and unemployed alike in a way that might make welfare payments seem fairer and more democratized to these voters. And, of course, a more full-throated progressive economic message (and laws that create easier access to voting) from Democrats may be able to encourage more of the downtrodden to make their voices heard at the polls.

Ultimately, though, there may be little Democrats can do to win over these surburban and rural white voters. Their shift to the GOP has been overwhelming, and if they’re willing to throw their friends and neighbors under the political bus there’s not all that much to be done. We can excuse it with economic, religious and social analysis, but at the end of the day that approach to life and ethics is usually described with negative moral language designed to invoke shame. Urban voters and minority communities don’t share this dog-eat-dog moral value system, and their numbers are growing. A more powerfully aggressive progressive politics and economic egalitarianism would likely help, but ultimately the solution may simply be a matter of waiting for demographic change and limiting the impact of gerrymandering designed to artificially increase the influence of these voters.

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