Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Voting Matters...I think

It's difficult to understand the causes and effects of a divided legislature as the factors that generate such a division are manifold. If one were to assume that, as a democracy, the makeup and ideologies of political representatives in Congress are a mirror of the makeup and ideologies of the American people, this would be incorrect. This is based on the supposition that everyone who is allowed to participate in the political process does, namely voting.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Indeed most Americans who are eligible to vote -- being 18 and older and a citizen -- do not vote. In fact, a significant minority of registered American voters (those eligible to vote and are able to do so because they've bothered to register) do not bother to vote. In other words, the American political process of representative government is controlled by a minority of Americas -- that is, those who bother to register and then to cast their ballots.

And the trend toward non-participation in the democratic process is increasing, meaning the minority of Americans that do vote are gaining in influence simply because they bother to cast a ballot and have their voices heard.

The US Census Bureau recently released a study that documents this trend in declining participating in voting from 1978 to 2014. 

Congressional elections are defined in this study as those elections that are between presidential elections. Note how few citizens (those eligible to vote, registered or not) bother to vote. With one exception, always below 50%.

More people bother to vote during presidential election years -- although one cannot call a participation rate in the 60% range significant -- but only a minority can get up off the couch during non-presidential election years.

White voters are more likely to have their voices heard than non-white voters.

And older Americans, especially Baby-Boomers, are more active in voting than any other age group, which can go far in explaining why the American Congress looks the way it does.

What does this all mean? It means that only those American who are more politically savvy, those that understand the power and influence of the voting process, vote. The majority of these voters are older white American baby-boomers. And this can also explain why our political parties are increasingly becoming further and further polarized: as fewer voices are being heard, only those who are most ardent in their politics -- meaning toward a political pole on the political continuum, rather than being in the political center -- will determine who gets elected. That is why, increasingly, we see fewer and fewer political centrists in Congress.

The following video gives a visual representation of this process. It is quite fascinating.

Remember, apathy (as in voter apathy) is a value and that value is reflected in the polls and as well the makeup of Congress. When fewer and fewer Americans vote, we get what we deserve: our present Congress -- perhaps the most inept since the founding of the Republic. The only time I can think when the US Congress was this polarized was right before the Civil War. I'm not saying that the US is on the brink of Civil War, hardly. But widespread and systemic non-participation in the democratic processes by wide swaths of Americans generates its own dynamic.

An interesting time to be alive. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Blue Vs. Black

I was unaware of Blue Lives Matter until I read this article by the BBC. Blue Lives Matter is a Twitter handle for Andie Pauly, who widely shares her cultural perspectives that strongly lean toward the political right. She writes primarily within the context of police officers and their families and the challenges that the police face in their public service; hence, "blue lives"  matter -- reflecting the color of most police department uniforms across the US.

As the BBC points out this woman's perspectives have become a lightning rod for both support from the right and intense criticism from the left. So divisive is the ongoing Twitter feud between her supporters and critics that it has become demonstrative -- in the words of the BBC -- of "how toxic America's culture wars have become."

I've examined in this in previous posts, that Americans are slowly but inexorably separating themselves not only emotionally but even physically from their political opposites (see The Dividing America series of posts).
Image: FreeThoughtProject
One of the most ardent and vocal opponents of Andie Pauly and her Blue Lives Matter crusade are the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter is a movement to draw attention toward police violence against inner-city African Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement came about as a reaction to the multiple murders of unarmed black men by (predominantly) white police officers -- murders that were frequently caught on camera and dispersed widely through social media, shocking Americans of all stripes and colors.
It is fascinating and unfortunate that the supporters of both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are such resolute opponents of the other. Although this might sound terribly pollyannaish, don't both black and blue lives matter? Why the disconnect? Why the hostile opposition of the one group toward the other?

Our society is coming apart at the seams. The BBC is right, our social strife is becoming toxic. Where are the bridge builders? Where are peace makers?
Image: AG News

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Growing Political Party Identification Divide

As was examined earlier in a four-part series (one, two, three, and four) the body politic of the United States is sifting itself into two primary identities -- identities that really transcend one's identity as Americans. I suppose, effectively, these are ironically post-nationalist identities.

Two social researchers, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood of Princeton University, published an article in the American Journal of Political Science titled "Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization" (link). Here they examined the growing division among Americans along lines according to political party identification. This division even trumps the racial divide, especially among white voters.

It's a fairly long though easy read and quite compelling. For those of you who do not want to take the time to read it, here's what I've gleamed from it:
  • Americans may not speak their deepest feelings when discussing race issues, but they will do so in regards to political ones. In other words, Americans may not be honest in their discussions about race, but they are frank and honest in sharing their dislike of and alienation with members of the opposing political party.
  • Today, the definition of what it means to be a Democrat is to not be a Republican, and vice versa. And this identification is not political (!), but rather affective -- meaning that it is not determined intellectually but by feelings. It is a social identity.
  • This increasing partisanship among voters is reflected in the political process. There is a growing tendency to "bash" one's political opponents in Congress and in the state legislatures  (the opposing political party representatives) rather than cooperate. Cooperation is viewed as appeasement and might threaten a politician's ability to be re-elected. 
  • Lastly, this sense of political identification has become so entrenched that it contributes to how an American views him or herself. The authors state that in the 1950s political identity was relatively weak, but today it is significantly different: "Today, the sense of partisan identification is all encompassing and affects behavior in both political and nonpolitical contexts."
The question that remains to be answered is if these paradigmatic differences are fissure points. I do not think that they are in and of themselves, but they do serve as the basis for personal identification in an in-group vs. out-group context.This is not good, as the last time I can think of where such a similar difference existed was right before the Civil War.

If anything, these differences demonstrate a sense of post-nationalism, as neither extreme party position allows for the continuance of a status quo "let's just simply agree to disagree." Now it's "go to hell.",204,203,200_.jpg