The Partisans Are Lined Up. What’s Next?

Currently we are a nation divided. Everyone would love to think that people think the deficit is currently driving us off a cliff, but while many Americans will agree with that, when it comes to doing something about it, they want low taxes and big government. If we were not a divided nation, this election would not even be close. But it is close.

Ilya Somin notes that this is not a historically unprecedented election, and that Obama and Romney are not doing any better or worse than other elections with similar economic indicators. He also notes:

Some of the models also take account of foreign policy events. While one can certainly make a case against Obama’s foreign policy, he has not presided over a large and obvious failure that can clearly be laid at his door in a way that swing voters – most of whom have very low levels of political knowledge – can readily grasp.

This is why I don’t really get political with events like the fiasco that just happened in North Africa, which resulted in the death of several people including our Ambassador. I don’t think it’s a very useful political club. The voters we need to reach won’t likely pin that on Obama, largely because the media won’t pin that on Obama, and the low information voters don’t care enough to seek out better information. This is a highly partisan election. Those who follow politics are already set in their decision, and the result is still very close. We will be depending on these low-information voters to decide the outcome. Zombie, at PJ Media, calls them Honey Boo Boos:

Honey Boo Boos is a term I just made up for the last remaining undecided voters in America. As you may have read at the time, the infantile and atrocious reality TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo either surpassed or tied the viewership totals of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. That means millions of people are so tuned out of politics and so uninterested in current affairs that they’d rather watch a family of obese rednecks abusing their young daughter than learn even the most basic facts about the next president of the United States. These Honey Boo Boo viewers are what pollsters like to call “low information voters,” but that descriptor is not complete: Honey Boo Boos are also low interest voters whose political ideology is either easily malleable or absent altogether.

As Professor Somin often points out, these aren’t stupid people — their decision not to pay careful attention to politics is rational, since the odds of their vote influencing the outcome of an election are vanishingly small. But they do still vote. Collectively, these are the people who will be deciding the 2012 election. Therefore rhetoric in this election will be more ridiculous than in an election where it wasn’t close, because much of the messaging will be aimed at low-information voters who aren’t persuaded by ideological or policy arguments. You see ads saying, “Obama is a nice guy, but hasn’t done a great job as President.” Those are aimed at those types of voters, who will tell pollsters that they are disappointed in Obama’s job performance, but they still personally think he’s a good man, and so are undecided.

Somewhere along the line we started telling people that voting was a civic duty. That was the wrong lesson. Being informed and educated about the workings of your Republic is the civic duty, and voting follows as a natural consequence of being informed and educated.

28 thoughts on “The Partisans Are Lined Up. What’s Next?”

  1. In defense of Honey Boo Boos, if you are a Democrat in Wyoming or a Republican in California, the electoral college guarantees your vote for president is a waste of paper. The down-ticket races still matter, but most House districts are now eternally safe for one party or the other, too. So basically, it’s the votes for US senator, and perhaps your local races, that matter most for anyone not living in a true swing state.

    1. I live in WA, so my presidential vote is meaningless, the state will go for Obama no matter how I vote. My 2nd District congressman is also a lock, and the R’s are not even putting up a fight against the incumbant Senator Cant(vote)well.

      On the other hand, we do stand a reasonable chance of taking the governorship for the first time in many years!

    2. the electoral college guarantees your vote for president is a waste of paper

      This is incorrect. How your state apportions the Electoral votes guarantees your vote being a waste.

      Individual states decide how to apportion the votes, most are winner take all. This system disenfranchises too many voters. I think a better system is to award the votes based on how each congressional district votes.

  2. I don’t know how much effect the Honey Boo Boos will have. Just checked the Voter Turnout percentages in my Almanac (stats come from the FEC), and the highest Turnout of all those Legally Eligible was 62.8% during Kennedy-Nixon in 1960. It seems to average around 55% for any election since 1932.

    Of course, this is the Popular Vote, and it does depend on how those Votes are distributed amongst the Electoral College, but one can say in “General Terms” that 40-45% of those Eligible Americans who could Vote don’t Vote, in spite of all the ease of Registration, Early Voting, Absentee Ballots, etc.

    So something tells me that this Election is going to be very close. I just don’t see anything Major happening to encourage the Honey Boo Boos to get off their Butts and hitting the Polls.

    All bets are off, though, if the Iranian-Israeli War breaks out between now and Election Day. $8.00 dollar a gallon Gasoline is a big incentive to get off the Couch.

  3. Sometimes I think there are no lower-information voters than the people who think they are exactly the opposite — well-informed.

    The everyday scenario anymore is that Faction “A” says that a piece of legislation contains Feature “X”. Faction “B” says no it doesn’t. Partisans then flock to their search engines, and Faction “A” comes back saying “here is documented proof that feature “X” is included in the legislation.” Faction “B” says BS, that’s from an “A-Wing” source that can’t be trusted; here are the facts. Faction “A” says, you guys are using a known “B-wing” biased source; what do you think we are, dumb?

    That will go on for weeks without anyone knowing whether Feature “X” is really included or not; unless they have the inclination to read 1350 pages of legislation, the skill to understand the legalese, and the knowledge of the other, existing legislation that is referenced in it. And Factions “A” and “B” will be providing competing interpretations of all those things.

    Eventually they will go to the polls and vote, based on whether the candidates supported Feature “X”, based on whether or not they supported that legislation, which everyone thinks did/did not contain Feature “X”. They will be dead certain regarding the presence/absence of Feature “X” depending on their faction.

    Those are the “high information” voters. The “low information” voters, who shrugged and gave up after the first iteration, go to the polls and vote on whether or not they like the guys.

  4. Sebastian; the most critical part of this post is hidden at the end. “we’ve told people voting is a civic DUTY…”. The mistake was in changing to true universal suffrage. Once, voting was a privilege, and thus valuable, and valued! By making it a “duty” now voting is perceived as a task to complete, not the privilege it is. I personally believe going back to limited suffrage would do wonders for our country. Perhaps suffrage based on taxpaying status? If you wind up with a net tax owed, you get to vote. Have a tax return? No vote. Thus the people who choose to find the country vote on how it is run. ( not perfect of course, but I can dream right?)

    1. Isn’t that pretty much the way the ancient democracies — that collapsed — worked? Only people of substance could vote?

      1. Could you name some names? Because there are precious few ancient democracies; the classic example and object lesson for the future is Athens and its actions after the 2nd war with Persia.

        Like the Roman Republic after the 3rd Punic War (Carthage Must Be Destroyed), suddenly acquiring an empire and not handling that well is fatal. We’ve been smart in always handing back any serious amount of non-CONUS territory we’ve acquired.

        Otherwise the usual pattern of republics (which for practical reasons have been a lot more common that democracies) is that when the morals of the people break down and they not only realize they can vote themselves the public treasury but do so, they’re doomed.

        Therefore restricting the franchise is simply not optional, and we can see that those who warned against universal suffrage were right. I’ve mentioned before the system of male suffrage (families vs. individuals) and those who own land or can pay a poll tax worked for us before it got “reformed”.

        Moving forward, something else is probably required, although we will be lucky to end up with a real republic after the Great Default.

        While he didn’t go into details, Jerry Pournelle’s dystopic Co-dominion future history had a distinction akin to what Matthew Fenn might be suggesting. In it were Taxpayers who had a lot of rights and “Citizens” who lived off the dole in “Welfare Islands” kept pacified by good (off planet origin) drugs plus the usual modern versions of circuses.

        1. And Athens as democracy was closer than many, but still a long ways off. Metics, Athenian residents whose ancestors were not Athenians, and thus not citizens, constituted a large percentage of the free population. Even a majority of free men in Athens were not citizens. Your trivia for the day: any man who had ever been penetrated for pay was ineligible to vote.

      2. Not quite true. The general movement of the Roman Republic was from an aristocratic republic (where only an elite had real political power) to a more democratic republic (where most Italian men could vote). But the first century BC battle was between the populares (wealthy members of the intermarried patrician and plebian class who claimed to be looking out for the little guys) and optimates (wealthy members of the intermarried patrician and plebian class who chose not to lie about looking out for the little guys).

        Rome’s last election involved the politicians borrowing so much money to bribe voters that interest rates rose by 1/3. I usually read an excerpt from Sallust (a 30s BC historian) describing the fall of the Roman Republic and its reasons to my Western Civ class; they require no prompting to immediately recognize that we are in the same situation.

    2. What defines paying tax? Most everyone pays excise taxes. And if someone did not, how would you tell? And if you indexed it to income taxes, what would prevent the government from shifting most of the tax burden to excise taxes, except for the small cadre of folks who mean to run the country just like China. Only party members pay taxes… and of course… only party members can vote.

      1. That’s one reason I have justified the “(Un)earned Income Credit” we get every year. We pay taxes on gas, on phones, and who knows what else (indeed, how much of a percentage of the price of everything we buy is tax in some form or another?) And then there’s Social Security and Medicare tax, that’s taken out of our paychecks as well.

        Another reason is that I want to get as much money out of Federal hands as possible.

        Yet another reason is that finances are tight, and I accept the money, even if I know it is immoral to do so, because of this. If I were in a better financial situation, I’d donate the credit to some charity.

        So your point about everyone paying taxes makes sense to me, even if “vote only if you pay taxes” also seems to be a reasonable rule to me!

  5. Sebastian, your last paragraph was pure gold! Thank you!!!!!

    What citizens need to be most informed about is the Constitution and the LIMITS it places on Federal powers, and the oaths of office our officials take to conform to those limits.

    Matthew Dennis is correct on voting being a privilege granted on the basis of qualifications established by each State (generally speaking, free, adult, male, tax-paying landowners in the 1790s). It didn’t become a “constitutional right” until it was so defined in the 15th Amendment, 1868). This was designed to ensure only those who paid the bills, who had “skin in the game,” could choose the people who spent the money. So these voters had a personal financial incentive to do their pre-election homework.

    And even then, voters could only vote for their State and local officials and the House of Representatives. Their State legislators chose the Senators as well as the Electors who then voted for the President according to their conscience, not political affiliation. This served as a check on federal power and the abuses of the treasury Sebastian was rightly concerned about. There never was, nor is, a national “popular vote” for President or any federal office, nor should there be. I despise the idea of some drug-taking, MTV-watching, uninformed, welfare-addicted New York City moron (have you watched Jay Leno’s “Jay-Walking”?) choosing who can raise taxes on my hard-earned, Midwestern income to pay more people not to work!!!!

    With regard to the Electoral College, only in rare instances was it expected that the Electors would actually choose the President by giving him a clear majority (obviously George Washington would be an exception!). Most Presidential elections, it was thought (before political parties dominated the scene), would be a close race in the Electoral College among several outstanding statesmen, and so the Constitution directed either the top two (if both received a majority) or the top five vote-getters would be submitted to the House of Representatives where each State got ONE vote and the majority of States would choose the President (such as happened in 1800). The STATES, NOT THE PEOPLE, were to choose the President!

    Think about that: that would have meant fiscally conservative pro-gun Presidents for the past sixty years or so!!!!!!! *sigh*

    Respectfully, Arnie

  6. “Their State legislators chose the Senators as well as the Electors who then voted for the President according to their conscience, not political affiliation…”

    Oh, Puhleeeze!

    Don’t you think those people were chosen by the same (or at least, equivalent) oligarchies, as choose our senatorial candidates and electoral college members today?

    The following is far from the best example; just one I am somewhat familiar with: Senator Joseph R. Grundy of Bristol, Bucks County, served after U.S. Senators became elected; however he was appointed, to fill a vacated seat. It is generally acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association was “his.” How do you suppose he was chosen? Arguably the PMA became a real powerhouse, under his reign, and they still provide support (that is often covert) to political intrigues that favor industry.

    BTW, just for historical interest: I was a candidate for the Pennsylvania Electoral College in 1992. Unfortunately my party got something like 0.2 percent of the popular vote in the state, so I wasn’t elected.

    1. “For completeness,” as they say; their own words:

      “Since its founding in 1909 by Bucks County industrialist Joseph R. Grundy to the emerging 21st Century under the leadership of Frederick W. Anton III, PMA has been a strong and consistent voice for business on matters ranging from economic freedom to the attraction of high tech industries. Through wars, depressions, economic booms and busts, PMA has been a steady and unyielding force in defending free enterprise against its adversaries.”

    2. See my comment above about optimates vs. populares in the Roman Republic. The net effect of popular election of U.S. Senators was to replace a system that was sort of optimates in the Senate and populares in the House with a system where populares in both houses of Congress. Instead of fighting over who got to screw over the masses, there was now agreement.

    3. Dear Andy B.,
      You may be right; I honestly can’t speak to your assertion because I don’t know what oligarchies may have been influencing State legislative selections for U.S. Senators in the 1790s. I can only report the Founders’ philosophy for why they chose Legislative Selection over direct (popular) election of Senators and Presidential Electors.

      That philosophy was to avoid the very “bread and circuses” bribery candidates use to buy the votes of the masses today.

      I think Mr. Cramer’s analogy may best support your assertion, that before direct elections, the “optimates” of each State sought a Senate delegation that would serve State sovereignty and power against federal usurpation, whereas today, those “powers that be” are bribing the “populares” in pursuit of enhanced federal power over, and intrusion into, both the prerogative of the States and the lives of the private citizens.

      I am confident of this: if Senators and Electors were still chosen exclusively by the State legislatures, the federal imposition of burdeningly expensive unfunded mandates on the States would never have seen the light of day! Federal gun control regulations, a power reserved exclusively to the States by the 10th Amendment and non-existent prior to direct elections of Senators, might not exist today either.

      I guess, Andy, that I’d rather have to deal with the oligarchies in my own State only, rather than have to fight them all over the country to keep them from adversely influencing legislation that directly affects me.

      By the way, were you pursuing a third party Electorship? The voting total you cited seemed awfully small for one of the two major parties. Just curious.

      Thanks for your reply!

      Respectfully, Arnie

      1. Last things first, maybe more later:

        Yes, I was with the Libertarian Party at the time. I was with them from around 1984 to early 1995, when I perceived that the state party was irresistibly being taken over by wackadoodles — bigger wackadoodles than we were. I was county chairman for a couple years right before that, when I like to think we were in our local ascendancy. Long story. By my perception, a great and tangible ascendancy brought crashing down by an influx of loons.

        I usually avoid being too explicit when referring to some of my minor party experiences, when I think the point I’m striving for is generic. Naming a party invites minor party partisanship that detracts from the point at hand.

        Back to objective history: I was one of 25 LP candidates for the Electoral College in 1992, when Andre Marrou was the LP candidate for president. We all know how that worked out.

      2. I don’t know what oligarchies may have been influencing State legislative selections for U.S. Senators in the 1790s.

        I really should take the time to look up the correct titles and terminologies, but, sometime look up the well-known minority report of the delegates to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Ratifying Convention. They wrote chapter and verse about how the Philadelphia (mainly) financial interests of the day, who supported the Federalists’ constitution, “fixed” the convention to maximize inconvenience and minimize attendance by delegates from the rural and frontier counties, who opposed it; how they were harassed while “resting in their quarters”, (I think that’s an almost exact quote), and, when they walked out of the convention over their suppression via procedural rules (think Ron Paul delegates at the recent RNC?) were hunted down and physically held, in some cases bound and gagged, at the convention so that their presence would count for the necessary quorum come vote time.

        And thus the constitution was ratified by Pennsylvania.

        Even allowing for some Founding Spin, the one thing that comes through for the period is that there were people acting desperately in their own self-interest; and not surprisingly, those were generally monied interests. Actually the similarities to today are astounding.

        But the point is, yes, there were very similar oligarchies. I did not study it closely enough to be conversant without prompting, but I understand the politics of Pennsylvania’s adopting its state Constitution of 1790 over that of 1776 was astoundingly dirty, and for the lowest of motives.

        1. Dear Andy B.,

          That is fascinating!!!! Thank you!!!!

          It’s also quite appalling what they did!!! Stinking Federalist partisans! Just like 1860 Republicans and present-day Democrats, wanting increased Federal control over our private lives, incomes, and businesses.

          I guess human nature hasn’t changed – “the love of money is root to all sorts of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

          Thank you, again Andy B. If I get time, I’ll try to google those sources you suggested. I really appreciate your info!


          – Arnie

          1. Earlier I started to look for the best link for:

            “The Address and Reason of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of the State of Pennsylvania”

            but had to stop and haven’t gotten back to it.

            One caution: I found a couple sites I thought were good, but they had edited out, one way or another, the delegates complaints about their treatment, leaving only their reflections on what problems they saw with the constitution, e.g., no “Bill of Rights” at that time.

            1. This appears to be a good and complete copy:


              The majority of the legislature of this commonwealth, were at that time under the influence of the members from the city of Philadelphia. They agreed that the deputies sent by them to convention should have no compensation for their services, which determination was calculated to prevent the election of any member who resided at a distance from the city. It was in vain for the minority to attempt electing delegates to the convention, who understood the circumstances, and the feelings of the people, and had a common interest with them. They found a disposition in the leaders of the majority of the house to chuse themselves and some of their dependants—The minority attempted to prevent this by agreeing to vote for some of the leading members, who they knew had influence to be appointed at any rate, in hopes of carrying with them some respectable citizens of Philadelphia, in whose principles and integrity they could have more confidence; but even in this they were disappointed, except in one member:–the eighth member was added at a subsequent session of the assembly…

              “. . . several of the subscribers (being then in the city to transact your business) were grossly abused, ill-treated and insulted while they were quiet in their lodgings, though they did not interfere, nor had any thing to do with the said election, but as they apprehend, because they were suppose to be adverse to the proposed constitution, and would not namely surrender those sacred rights, which you had committed to their charge.”

        2. Wow! I appreciate your energy and devotion to be involved. I tend to just sit and gripe and buy more guns as I see our freedoms being threatened. But you were active in trying to be part of the solution, and I thank you for that! – Arnie

          1. Oops, I meant to put this response under Andy B.’s description of his political activity above. Hope you saw this, Andy, and thanks again!

            1. And thanks for your compliments!

              I often say, though, that my life experiences have led to a condition reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s lyric, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Which I interpret to mean, I was much more sure of how everything worked, and how everything should be, in the long past, than I am at the present.

  7. While I, for one, am inclined to think it’s a good idea to have Senators appointed by the State Legislature (it would certainly take most of that money out of Senate races!), I’m inclined to think that it won’t matter too much, one way or the other. We elect our representatives, whether local, state, or national; thus, we tend to get the government that the majority of the people want, or at least, are willing to tolerate.

    As an anarcho-capitalist, I’m particularly attracted to the Midaeval Icelandic system of government, where you got to choose your chieftan, if he approved of you, and it generally didn’t matter where you were geographically. Thus, you didn’t even have to vote for your feet! If we were to develop some sort of representation like that, then the percentage of “disenfranchised” voters would be very small indeed. (It probably won’t be nonexistent, though, but I can’t help but notice that every time that an election happens, every person who has voted, but whose candidate lost, is now with a candidate that is silly to call “representative”. For me, that was when I voted for Sweeney over Gillibrand, when I lived in New York State. It’s weird writing to Senator Hillary Clinton to express your viewpoint, because you know it’s going to fall on deaf ears; I would write to both her, and to Senators Hatch and Bennett in Utah (where I originally came from), because of that disconnect!)

    Having said that, all my “anarcho-capitalist” dream would do, would make sure that the government *really* represented the people. If the People are inclined to choose that which is evil–in this case, to live off the public coffers–a more closely representative system would *hasten* the demise of the country, rather than prevent it!

    1. The best that can be said for our “representative” system is that it places a damper on the populares, though even a damped system will eventually arrive at the final point of failure. On the other hand, it could plausibly be argued that it reduces the damping on the optimates. Maybe it’s just a question of the path you choose, to get where you are inevitably going.

      I like the old Icelandic anarchist system, too, and I find the ancient Irish Celtic clan system somewhat attractive. Unfortunately both demonstrated that some higher level of coerced cooperation seems to be necessary to stand up militarily to systems that are at that state of evolution where they can organize for plunder.

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