Category Archives: Political Participation

Voting and the Mystery of it All

Cropped version of :Image:Iraqi voters in Bagh...

Cropped version of :Image:Iraqi voters in Baghdad.jpg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is voting a form of conventional or unconventional political participation?  I guess it all depends on your definition of . . . voting.  For years I’ve been telling students about how my mother voted for Bill Clinton (first run) because she liked his hair (to be fair, she had also expressed the opinion that she thought Senator Robert Dole—Clinton’s opponent—was too old to be President).  I also explain to my students why her comments could be so troubling to a son that teaches political science and who, incidentally, both worked on the Clinton campaign as a partisan staffer in Illinois and contributed to the Glass Ceiling Commission Report (sponsored by Senator Robert Dole of Kansas) while working at a California think tank in the early 1990s.

I share these stories with my students to illustrate the conundrum that I believe voting presents to academics and pundits alike.  As a form of political participation it is routinely mentioned as one of the most conventional forms of political behavior practiced by Americans.  A search of the thesaurus on the term “conventional” results in usual, established, standard, normal, etc.  In other words, one would truly expect that voting is something done often and by many or most people whenever presented with an opportunity to do so.  The problem is that in most elections most people who can don’t vote—that is by casting a ballot.  Voter turnout (the actual percentage of eligible voters who vote in a particular election) in non-presidential elections rarely rises above fifty percent.  In many local elections voter turnout is lucky to rise above twenty percent (many municipal elections fall into this category).  Even if we just limit our discussion to people who vote, does my mother’s selection of Bill Clinton based on youth and attractiveness, and yes, years of party identification as a Democrat biasing her selection from the get-go, actually deserve to be compared to a person’s comparison of candidates on important policy differences?  What if someone just walks into a voting booth, closes their eyes, and just starts poking holes in the ballot—is that voting?

In my estimation, if we used that actual meaning of the word “conventional” as our metric, voting would have to be listed as a form of non-conventional participation, right up there with attending political meetings, and participating in a demonstration (and let us not forget donating to a candidate or campaign, running for office, or even contacting an elected official, just to name a few).  Truth be told, I just happen to believe in democracy as a form of government.  I just don’t agree with the emphasis placed on voting at the expense of all the other ways a person can participate in governing—themselves, their workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and even nations.  What do you think?  Does the material in your textbooks and course lectures support or detract from my basic thesis?  I would like to know.

–DENNIS FALCON

Let the “Battle” Begin–The Targeting of States and Voters in 2012

BATTLEGROUND STATES 08

BATTLEGROUND STATES 08 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The direction of the 2012 presidential election will become increasingly apparent in the days and weeks to come as the candidates and their supporters target important battleground states.  Battleground states are states that are considered to be contestable in the upcoming election; in other words, the state is worth visiting and investing substantial resources in.  Non-battleground states are states that candidates do not expect to win, making them less likely to receive much attention from candidate or their surrogates.  The identification of battleground and non-battleground states begins just as the election results of the previous presidential election are being tallied.  Campaign managers, political scientists, journalists, and others have been studying campaign maps for decades; especially Electoral College maps for presidential elections going back to the 1960s.

Battleground states are more likely than not to be states that have a history of voting democratic or republican.  Battleground states can also be determined by the margins of victory by various statewide elected officials (governors, etc.) in recent elections.  For example, if republican candidates have won recent elections in a state by what are considered wide margins the state is not likely to be considered a battleground state by the democratic party (they will basically write it off).  Once the battleground states are identified the process shifts toward identifying swing voters in battleground states that can make all the difference in a close election.  Hispanics, women, younger voters are likely voting blocks that will be targeted by candidates in the 2012 election.  What do you think about candidates for the Presidency targeting some states and ignoring others?  Should all fifty states receive their fair share of attention?  Is this even possible given the costs associated with national elections?

–DENNIS FALCON

Purges and Repubican Forms of Government

Vote Oregon!

Vote Oregon! (Photo credit: jugbo)

According to the Constitution of the United States individual states are required to provide to their citizens a republican form of government.  The guarantee of a republican form of government in the Constitution is vague, but it provides a wide door for rights related to voting, representative-based government, and the sovereignty of the people in all fifty states.  The clause in the Constitution is also used as a foundation for each state to organize and conduct all elections in a state, whether the elections are for local, state, and even federal offices.

The state of Florida is currently involved in a legal dispute with the federal government over the issue of voter registration rolls.  The state of Florida is arguing that it has the right to purge voter registration rolls of names of persons not eligible to vote in Florida elections.  The state is arguing that it has the right to establish voter qualifications that do not directly deny citizens of the United States their fundamental right to vote and that maintaining voter registration rolls that are accurate and based on state law includes taking reasonable steps to protect their integrity.  In the current dispute, the federal government is arguing that the state of Florida recently purged properly registered voters from the rolls causing citizens of the United States to be denied their right to vote simply because they have the same name as a person who is ineligible to vote.  Both sides of the dispute are well-grounded in law, precedent, and practice—unfortunately, the specters or partisanship and electoral self-interest are seen at work on both sides as well.  The current dispute is about to peak in the middle of a presidential election year in a well-known battle ground state.  Do you believe the issue can be addressed by the courts impartially?  Do you think the current dispute is a legitimate clash of opinions and positions or a side-show of the election season we are watching unfold?

–DENNIS FALCON

Race and the Hispanic Vote

English: White Hispanic and Latino Americans

English: White Hispanic and Latino Americans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second in a series of blogs focusing on what some like to refer to as the Hispanic vote.  It is intended to edify those elements of the MyPoliSciLab community that may just be learning of the increasingly important role Hispanic voters will play in American politics.  This installment will consider the significance of race as a factor influencing our understanding of the emerging Hispanic vote across the country.

First of all, the term Hispanic does not actually discriminate according to race (although many researchers do take race into account when studying Hispanics).  Hispanics born in the United States as part of the baby boom generation (and for decades before that) would have been designated as “White” or “Caucasian” on their birth certificates.  Of course, Hispanic newborns with parents or a parent displaying “Black” or African American features or characteristics would have likely been designated as “colored” or “Black” depending on the particular time in history.  In actuality Hispanics can be White and Black—or both as in the case of a bi-racial individual.  Given the state of political science research on the matter, traditional voting models that take race into account and predict that White voters are more likely to support republican candidates and African American or Black voters are more likely to support democratic candidates, are problematic when we take into account Hispanic voters.  The current state of the discipline suggests that including Hispanics in the models is reasonable based on the understanding that Hispanics represent a different population.  I am suggesting that they do not.

Hispanics, as we currently understand the term, come from the nations of North, Central, and South America.  They are White, Black, and Indian (indigenous, indígena) and every possible iteration you can think of.  Discussions regarding the Hispanic vote in both the mainstream and new media are still likely to follow in the footsteps of those who have an over-simplified understanding of their Hispanic brothers and sisters.  What do you think?  Should political scientists lead the way in terms of changing the way we talk about Hispanic political behavior?  Can the media make heads or tails of the issues involved?

–DENNIS FALCON

The Hispanic Vote—Myth, Monolith, Mystery

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song "...

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song “American Pie” at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial concert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the race for the White House moves along Hispanic voters will show up on the radar for both democratic and republican candidates. More experienced and knowledgeable commentators will know enough to differentiate between largely republican Cubans and Cuban Americans in Florida, from the deeply divided Texas contingent of Mexican cowboys that listen to Garth Brooks and those that stencil Michoacan on the back windows of their trucks. The Hispanic vote also includes the diverse block of socially conservative Catholic and growing evangelical Christians across the nation who believe in marriage between one man and one woman and their relatives who marry and divorce often—and sometimes with the same people. And don’t forget the urban Latino professionals who have managed to make it out of college and graduate programs to take very good jobs in every industry you can imagine. The so-called Hispanic vote is there for the taking.

Aggregated, the Hispanic vote largely goes to democratic candidates in percentages that make the gender gap look ridiculously trivial (anywhere from sixty-five to over seventy percent). In a good year, a republican candidate can get close to forty percent of the Hispanic vote. That translates into an unpopular democratic candidate getting just over sixty percent of the Hispanic vote. Over a decade ago I worked as a researcher for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (one of the most important Latino think tanks in the nation). Our research routinely led us to conclude that Hispanic voters shared many of the same characteristics as other democratic groups of voters. Some care more about social issues. Some care more about immigration issues. Some care quite a bit about crime and the environment. Most care an awful lot about the economy and jobs and their children’s education. To make a long story short, candidates on both sides are going to have to work this one out on their own. The term “Hispanic” was actually first used by the Census Bureau as a term to capture the growing Spanish surnamed population in the United States. It’s an arbitrary and largely artificial term used to identify a very real and very complicated assortment of peoples and experiences that have contributed greatly to the American experiment. What do you think? Will the Hispanic vote help determine the winner for 2012? Will democratic and republican candidates figure out how to play the Rubik’s Cube of the Hispanic vote?

–DENNIS FALCON