David Brockington wrote a great article over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Why I Voted Jeremy Corbyn for Leader of the Labour Party, With Reservations. This is not another article about Corbyn, so don’t worry. It’s about choice. Brockington is a social scientist on the faculty of Plymouth School of Government. And he has been doing work that indicates that voter turnout goes down the more the two parties move to the center. He’s very careful to say that he hasn’t proven this. He’s a scientists, after all. But the evidence seems to indicate it. And the narrative is very strong.
Consider that you have two candidates. One of them is promising cut taxes on the wealthy and the other is promising to keep those taxes the same. If you aren’t wealthy, why would you care? Would this make you think that you ought to inconvenience yourself by finding time to vote? Or would you feel very much like the people of a nation where they can only vote for people from a single party? When elections come down to who is the most competent to do what both candidates agree on, very few people show up at the polls.
Given that the people least likely to vote are liberal leaning voters, it thus makes more sense to get turnout as high as possible. Of course, it doesn’t always work. In 2004, turnout was very high because people were angry about the war. But this was cutting against an improving economy. I now feel certain that had the Democrats nominated Howard Dean and made the election about the war, Bush would have lost. (And do you know what that would have meant? No John Roberts. No Samuel Alito. And we still would have likely gotten Sotomayor and Kagan, because Souter and Stevens both wanted to retire. That would have brought us a court with one liberal, five moderates, one conservative, and two wackos.)
So what does this mean for the 2016 presidential election here in the US? Even though I’m a supporter of Bernie Sanders, I don’t think that it means we have to nominate him. I think that Hillary Clinton is plenty exciting herself. She would be, after all, the first woman president. And we do have a history of this: first black men got the vote (in theory, anyway) and then women got the vote. It does make me more skeptical of a Joe Biden presidential run. I think that people often make a very big mistake by going with the “safe” choice. It’s just too easy to be wrong. Again, it’s like John Kerry in 2004. He was the “safe” choice, but knowing what I now know about politics, he was a horrible choice.
Someone I was reading recently noted that if the American people could vote Obama a third term, they would. That’s probably true. I think the country is happy enough with the direction of the economy. And I expect that to be true for the next year. The Republicans seem incapable of offering anything other than going backwards to worse times. And I don’t think the people are in any mood to go far to the left. Of course, the thing about Clinton is that she’s pretty much matched Sanders in terms of possible economic policy. So in addition to being a woman, she is offering policies that do make a clear distinction with whatever candidate the Republicans run.
This makes me feel even a little better about 2016.