Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson: Americans Are Sick to Death of Both Parties: Why Our Politics Is in Worse Shape Than We Thought

Lambert here: I’d like to know a bit more about how we can tell when a political system “has disintegrated,” as opposed to “is disintegrating,” and in the American context. Perhaps a future article! Meanwhile, it’s pleasing to see an explanation of why the 2014 results were as bad for Democrats as the Democrats are pretending they aren’t.

By Walter Dean Burnham, Professor Emeritus, Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Chair in State Government at the University of Texas, Austin, and Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and contributing editor of AlterNet. Originally published at Alternet.

The way many pundits tell it, the Democratic debacle in the 2014 midterm elections sounds like a perfect storm of bad breaks. The President was aloof. The party’s message was weak and muddled, in some races focused almost entirely on gender issues. Meanwhile record or near-record breaking waves of political money (for off year elections) cascaded through the political system while voter turnout plunged to levels last seen in 1942.

The real story is much uglier: 2014 was fundamentally a democratic debacle. It likely heralds a new stage in the disintegration of the American political order.

Though Republicans jubilate now, the trend is probably as threatening to them as it is to the Democrats. The reason is stark: Increasing numbers of average Americans can no longer stomach voting for parties that only pretend to represent their interests.

So they stayed home, in quite extraordinary numbers. A full accounting of all votes cast in 2014 is still weeks, perhaps months away; it takes that long for all the returns to come in, especially in races in which incumbents faced no challenger or a recount was required. Some high stakes state elections also attract a few more voters than House contests held at the same time, which makes working off unofficial tabulations of a state’s “total vote” even trickier. But our cautious guess is that turnout in this year’s Congressional races will finally weigh in at around 36 percent of the potential electorate that had legal rights to cast a ballot.

That’s a shocking statistic. Put aside for a moment all talk of 1942 and absolute levels of turnout. Instead focus on changes in turnout between presidential elections and the next off-year election. Across the whole sweep of American history, the momentous dimensions of what has just happened stand out in bold relief. The drop off in voting turnout from the presidential election of 2012 to 2014 is the second largest of all time – 24 percentage points. Only 1942’s decline from 1940 was bigger – 29 percentage points. But then there was an excuse. Millions of Americans were hurriedly fanning out across the globe to wage total war. (World War I showed a similar pattern – turnout in the off year elections of 1918 fell 22 points from 1916’s presidential race, marking the fourth largest decline ever. Which leads naturally to the question of the third largest. Read on.)

Now cast a glance at the actual levels to which turnout in many states sank this year. In the last generation, turnouts in the many formerly industrialized states in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic region, and parts of the Midwest have bounced around, with one or another state sometimes touching historic lows in a particular election. But this year the decline is broad and to levels that boggle the mind – rates of voting that recall the earliest days of the 19th century, before the Jacksonian Revolution swept away property suffrage and other devices that held down turnout. Turnout in Ohio, for example, fell to 34 percent — a level the state last touched in 1814, when political parties on a modern model did not exist and it had just recently entered the Union. New York trumped even this: turnout in the Empire State plunged to 30 percent, almost back to where it was in 1798, when property suffrage laws disenfranchised some 40 percent of the citizenry. New Jersey managed a little better: turnout fell to 31 percent, back to levels of the 1820s. Delaware turnout fell to 35 percent, well below some elections of the 1790s. In the west, by contrast, turnout declined to levels almost without precedent: California’s 33 percent turnout appears to be the lowest recorded since the state entered the union in 1850. Nevada also hit a record low (28 percent), as did Utah at 26 percent (for elections to the House).

Exceptions to this pattern exist. There is no point in comparing changes in turnout in 2014 with 2012; presidential elections are in a different league altogether. But if one looks at the differences between 2014 and the last off year election of 2010, some interesting cases turn up. For decades after the failure of the Populists in 1896, southern politics was a world unto itself. Turnouts were reminiscent of England before the Great Reform Bill of 1832. In Georgia in 1942, for example, turnout topped out at 3.4 percent (that’s right, 3.4 percent; no misprint). Why is no mystery: the Jim Crow system pushed virtually all African-Americans out of the system, while the network of poll taxes, registration requirements, literacy tests and other obstacles that was part of that locked out most poor whites from voting, too. Since the civil rights revolution, turnouts in the South have risen fitfully to national levels, amid much pushback, such as the raft of new voter ID requirements (though these are not limited to the South). In 2014, the sharp plunge in turnout elsewhere helped achieve a milestone of sorts: regional differences between the South and the rest of country just about vanished, for the first time since perhaps 1872, when the Union army still occupied much of the old Confederacy.

The other class of exceptions is uniquely telling. Turnout rose compared to that of 2010 in at least eight states. We will not know whether 2014 set a new record for political money in off year elections until the post-election disclosure reports are all in at the Federal Election Commission and the IRS (where reports on so-called 527 spending are filed, on a different schedule). But it is already clear that the scale of expenditures this year guarantees 2014 will be a worthy contender for that dubious honor. Most states in which turnout rose were sites of high stakes, heavily contested elections either for the Senate, as in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, or for the governor’s office – precisely the sort of places that big donors for sure concentrated their resources on. The tidal wave of money, we judge, supercharged campaigns in those states, if not electorates. (The turnout increases were quite modest, save in Louisiana.)

It seems plain that the American political universe is being rapidly reshaped by economic and cultural crisis into something distinctly different. The Democrats’ messaging this year was, indeed, almost eerily spectral. But its otherworldly feebleness was rooted in fundamental facts that are not going away and cannot be fixed by switching media advisers.

The first problem was the administration’s dismal economic policy record. Though some Democrats try to sugarcoat the dismal facts by focusing on changes since 2009, when the President assumed office, the truth is that the fruits of the recovery have gone lopsidedly to the very richest Americans. Wall Street and the stock market boom, but wages continue to stagnate, and unemployment remains stubbornly high, with millions of Americans withdrawn from the labor force or working only part time. As incomes recovered from 2009 to 2012, for example, 95 percent of all the gains went to the top 1 percent of income earners.  The rest of the population was left far behind. As of July 2014, real median household income was still more than 6 percent below its value in early 2008. The administration’s continuing efforts to court Wall Street, along with its reluctance to sanction even flagrant misconduct by prominent financiers just pour salt into these wounds.

The other reason for the messaging failure is graver, because responsibility for it cannot possibly be fobbed off on the Republicans. Though the full figures are still coming in, we are confident that what Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen demonstrated to be true in 2012 will hold for 2014, despite claims to the contrary in parts of the media: The President and the Democratic Party are almost as dependent on big money – defined, for example, in terms of the percentage of contributions (over $500 or $1000) from the 1 percent as the Republicans. To expect top down money-driven political parties to make strong economic appeals to voters is idle. Instead the Golden Rule dominates: Money-driven parties emphasize appeals to particular interest groups instead of the broad interests of working Americans that would lead their donors to shut their wallets.

In the short run, the Democrats’ minuses look like big pluses to Republicans. Both the party’s big donors and its national leaders are exultant at their prospects. As David Stockman, President Reagan’s Budget Director once all but confessed, in the modern era the party has never really pretended to have much of a mass constituency. It wins elections by rolling up huge percentages of votes in the most affluent classes while seeking to divide middle and working class voters with various special appeals and striving to hold down voting by minorities and the poor. As we move further into the next stage of our New Gilded Age politics, only the terms of the bargain will change that the party’s core donors and economic policymakers strike around election time with the gaggle of evangelicals, gun advocates, and anti-feminist and homophobic crusaders – not to mention sheer racists – that whip up their flocks. They will also serve, who only stand and bait.

By contrast, 2014 suggests that the Democrats’ ability to retain any mass constituency at all may now be in question. The facts of globalization, top heavy income inequality, and the world wide tendency toward austerity may just be too much for a party that is essentially dominated by segments of the 1 percent but whose legacy appeal is to average Americans.

Exit polls from the 2014 House races suggest that the old New Deal political formula has become like the grin of the Cheshire Cat. Traces of the ancient pattern are still there in the aggregate: In the lowest income bracket (under $30,000 in the 2014 exit polls) voters overwhelmingly prefer the Democrats by 59 percent to 39 percent.  As income rises, that percentage falls off steeply, with the slightest of hiccups in the very highest bracket.  Conversely, upper income voters were much more likely to vote Republican, though a modest gender gap remained in the national electorate, if not that of every state. (Nationally women voters preferred the Democrats by only 51 percent to 47 percent; the Republican advantage among men was much larger – 57 percent to 41 percent.) But after six years of profound policy disappointment, not enough lower income voters bothered to go to the polls.

Right now Hillary Clinton’s strategists appear to be pinning their hopes on firing up another ritualized big money-led coalition of minorities and particular groups instead of making broad economic appeals. That hope might perhaps prove out, if the slow and very modest economic recovery continues into 2016, or the Republicans nominate another Richie Rich caricature like Mitt Romney, who openly mocks the poorest 47% of the electorate. But exit surveys showed that in 2014 many women voters thought economic recovery and jobs were top issues, too.  And one may doubt how robust the recovery can be in the face of a steadily rising dollar, which now seems baked in the world economic cake for a considerable time to come.

But if the time has perhaps passed when a Democratic Party dominated and financed by Wall Street and Silicon Valley can mobilize anything but remnants, the Republicans can hardly count on smooth sailing for very long. In 2016, if voters are offered another choice between Republican Lite and real Republicans, the affluent Americans who will mostly turn out may well once again cast ballots for the real thing. But once in power the Republicans will have to do something.

Here they face a huge problem. We live in a world in which education, infrastructure, and national strategies are crucial to economic performance. Corporate leaders also reward themselves virtually without limit for average (not to mention less than average) economic performance that runs down their own firms over the long run.  And, especially in the financial sector, they do this as they throw the costs of their mistakes on taxpayers and demand all sorts of subsidies as they finance campaigns for big budget cuts and against taxes. (A stunning case in point is the recent success of the big banks in muscling through a provision in the new spending bill that allows them to move many derivatives back into the parts of their operations insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, even as Congress trimmed government backstops for pension funds. )

Little in the free market fundamentalist prayer book offers effective solutions to these dilemmas. Large scale public investments are indispensable to any effort to revitalize the American economy. Since 2006, when the Democratic landslide lamed George W. Bush’s administration, American politics has become a game of musical chairs. 2008 was certainly a negative referendum on the greatest economic policy disaster since the Great Depression. 2010 was yet another vote of no confidence after the administration’s timidity and intransigent Republican opposition combined to dash the soaring hopes that had accompanied President Obama into the White House. That election saw the third greatest drop off in voting turnout in American history and a Republican landslide in the House. In all probability, if the GOP presidential field of 2012 had not behaved like Democratic caricatures, including the eventual nominee, the President might quite possibly have become one of the millions of Americans who lost their jobs and their homes thanks to the Great Recession.

In any case, both direct poll evidence and common sense confirm that huge numbers of Americans are now wary of both major political parties and increasingly upset about prospects in the long term.  Many are convinced that a few big interests control policy. They crave effective action to reverse long term economic decline and runaway economic inequality, but nothing on the scale required will be offered to them by either of America’s money-driven major parties. This is likely only to accelerate the disintegration of the political system evident in the 2014 congressional elections.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Dirk77

    Low turnout seems good as a sign people are becoming more comfortable with alternatives to how things are done now.

    I assume Ferguson is for publicly funded elections. Has he given any thought to how that might be done?

    1. abynormal

      ‘turnout’ is due to low moral from consistent 11th hour policies implemented against ‘we the people’. politics has now completed its decoupling from ‘we the people’.

      “Little in the free market fundamentalist prayer book offers effective solutions to these dilemmas.”
      Free Market fundamental playbook offers NO effective solution to ANY dilemma!

      fixed it…because it only takes One fraudulent set of books or One high-end Sociopath to weaken and/or corrupt the rest!

      1. Dirk77

        Well, there is that. California passed a proposition a few years ago that limits the number of people running in an election to the top two vote getters from the primary. More evidence that the direct voting idea doesn’t work, at least under the present system.

        1. jrs

          No, it’s not evidence direct democracy doesn’t work. You are comparing it to the ideal, where nothing misguided or even outright stupid is ever passed. I would compare it instead to representative democracy. I think direct democracies track record is better.

          I do think people were merely misguided in that particular prop, I think they thought it would break up the 2 party system when in fact it reinforced it. And no it wasn’t even a case of the influence of money on that particular prop.

          1. Dirk77

            Prop. 13 was before my time, but I voted for term limits. I would like to think as you do, but I I look back and just regret every prop that has been passed. Reps were supposed to be the people who were paid to spend the time and thought thinking through the consequences of a proposed law. That clearly is not how things are working now. What a farce. At this rate, it will take us another 500 years before we are asked to join the Federation.

      2. susan the other

        Yes and not yet. We have come to the end of our economic “model” – this is true. (It was idiotic beyond its next disbursement). But we have not come to the end or our progressive drive into the future. Please do not burden my conscience with idiots like Virgin Atlantic or Microsoft (or whatever the shitheads are calling themselves ) – please bring me down to reality and humility. And what is possible and good.

  2. John Brookes

    The low turnout is because people perceive that outcomes for them will be the same no matter which party is in power. That makes sense. Except it can’t be true, because high income earners don’t believe it, and turn out to vote.

    And it seems to be impossible to market an alternative to the current parties. So we are up the creek.

    1. jgordon

      It’s the elite’s money that affects policy, not their vote. The poor could turn out in massive numbers and the elites could stay home for all the difference it would make. The poor and disaffected implicitly understand this truth and thus have rationally chosen to withdraw from the system. Another way of saying that: for a lot of people the government has become illegitimate, and exists only to harass them, exploit them, or otherwise interfere with their efforts to make ends meet.

  3. RanDomino

    -Elizabeth Warren will save us!!1
    -Magical thinking about changing the Democratic Party
    -Pointless whining about opponents using unfair tactics
    -Anxiously looking and/or begging for someone else to save us
    -“I’m old and I hope things change but I’m not going to do anything”
    -Wishful thinking about regulations somehow becoming actually enforced
    -Irrational musing about changing the voting system via the current voting system
    (okay well I guess I’m too late on the last two)

  4. gardener1

    I cast my first vote in 1971, fresh off the newly lowered to 18 voting age.
    I voted in EVERY election everywhere I lived, local and national after that. I never missed an election and I was always a registered voter.

    Until the year 2000, the last time I cast a vote in my country. The year of the hanging chad stupidity, the hundreds of thousands of lost and uncounted mail-in and overseas votes, the year Zimbabwe kindly offered to send in election monitors, the year the Supreme Court declared who the president would be, ballots be damned.

    It was then very clear to me that elections in my country were a complete fraud. That voting was just a window dressing for installing the pre-determined sock puppets and policies du jour.

    I have never voted again and I never will. Not on any issue nor for any ‘candidate’, I will not be a party to this fraud. No.

    Goodbye my country, I will not be a part the self destruction of the US. I can only let you go and watch in tears.

    1. RUKidding

      I still vote but mainly only for 3rd party candidates, or I write in someone. Plus also for state ballot initiatives, which are about the last gasp of anything remotely resembling “representative democracy” these days.

      The Dog ‘n Pony show that we call “Elections” are totally bogus anymore and so awash in a ton of dark of money, plus now legal buck$ that it’s a friggin joke.

  5. not_me

    Large scale public investments are indispensable to any effort to revitalize the American economy. Walter Dean Burnham

    Agreed if such “investments” include a Steve-Keen-like universal bailout of the population. That would be an investment in justice and thus national survival at the hands of the Creator who rather insists on justice.

    1. diptherio

      IMHO, what we need is a third party based not around a particular policy platform, but around a participatory, democratic process. This would be a major shift from how we do things right now, where we choose one person and they have total control over the use of their elected office for four years. In my preferred system, representatives would be required to vote in line with the expressed wishes of their constituency, as determined through on-line polling:

      You’re Doing it Wrong: Politics as if Democracy Mattered

      I’m working on part two to the above right now, but the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that we need an entirely new way of doing politics, which will require us to think WAAAY outside of our accustomed boxes. This politics where we select one of two demagogues, who are barely distinguishable on most issues, and give them full control of the powers of office for 2-6 years is outdated, ludicrous, and in no way befitting a society of fully-functioning adults.

      American politics has a daddy-complex, big time, and we need to deal with that before anything fundamental is going to change.

      1. LifelongLib

        Dunno. I want a representative who supports my interests, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he/she would vote the way I naively would on every amendment, procedural motion, etc. Unless we have a perfect democracy in which any randomly-chosen adult can step into a legislature, representatives are experts who we to a degree have to rely on. By their fruits we shall know them.

    2. bmeisen

      Addtionally the article could refer to how other democracies address voter turnout, more specifically the danger of low voter turnout. For example some democracies require citizens to vote – it’s illegal not to vote in several European democracies I believe. Admittedly this is not a good solution but it is an illustration of the fact that American democracy is not in a cul-de-sac. It’s just that it has learned suprisingly little from the experiences of other democracies – a feature of the exceptionalism trap no doubt – and is unlikely to start learning now.

      The US is a selective democracy. To increase voter turnout it has to become an inclusive democracy. The dems and the gop don’t want this to happen because they as parties would lose their dominance. The path to inclusive democracy that I suggest is automated voter registration via cititzen registration and centralized government services. A law would have to be passed that requires all American citizens to register with a central citizen registration office in their jurisdiction upon taking up residence in that jurisdiction. By registering as a resident of that jurisdiction citizens would automatically register their children for schools, their cars for the roads, their garbage for the dump. perhaps most importantly they would register to as voters. accordingly they would receive notification from the authorities of upcoming elections, be provided with appropriate documentation as registered voters, and encouraged to vote. They are not punished if they do not vote. This system is also used in at least one large European democracy.

  6. Jim Haygood

    ‘Our cautious guess is that turnout in this year’s Congressional races will finally weigh in at around 36 percent of the potential electorate that had legal rights to cast a ballot.’

    PT Barnum would be proud. Voting for Depublicrats serves to endorse our new shadow legislative system, in which riders that no one ever heard of are inserted into ‘must pass’ bills at 3 a.m. and whooped into law the next day. Derivatives pushouts, f*** yeah!

    Since the constitution has been suspended, President Obama should be encouraged to close down the failed institution of Congress with a presidential memorandum (our new shadow executive system). Modest funding would be adequate to fill its marble corridors three feet deep with muck, and open an experimental hog farm.

    Why legislate pork, when you can grow it in situ?

    1. jgordon

      That was incredibly eloquent. Now just consider that the economic system is merely an addendum to the political system and as such under your proposal our monetary units would have to be denominated in pork products rather than federal reserve notes.

    2. Paul Niemi

      While not necessarily disagreeing, here are some figures. The preliminary nationwide mean VEP, or percentage of eligible voters casting ballots in the 2014 general election was 35.9 percent. The highest state was Maine, with 58 percent of eligible voters voting, and the lowest state was Indiana, at 27.8 percent. Note the high variation, with the highest state turnout being more than double the lowest state turnout. The high difference between highest and lowest states suggests local factors may predominantly affect voter turnout. Perhaps in Maine, Lambert is to be personally credited with getting voters to the polls, while in the Neon Cornfield nothing much is really going on.

      To have some fun, I glanced at the list of 2014 state voter turnouts at the United States Elections Project, and compared results to prevalence of obesity by state. Yep, just at a glance there appears a positive correlation between states with highest rates of obesity and lowest voter turnout. States with obesity rates over 30 percent were also the lowest voter turnout states, in a band from Texas, with 28.3 percent turnout, to West Virginia, with 31.2 percent voter turnout. I only point this out to illustrate that it is too easy to point to any one factor to explain low voter turnout.

      Three states have Postal Voting or Vote By Mail. These are Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Turnout in these three states was 51.0 percent, 41.2 percent, and 53.4 percent, respectively. Advantages of Vote By Mail include lower cost of elections and all paper ballots. A disadvantage was supposed to be that the local Eyewitness News might not be able to name all the election winners on election night, as ballots postmarked by election day could continue trickling in over several days, but surprisingly few actually seem to care about that. The average turnout of those three states was 48.3 percent, which was 35 percent higher than the national average for the 2014 general election. Would Indiana benefit from Postal Voting? At least then voting wouldn’t interrupt dinner time, perhaps.

      I’m posting this because the many commenters deploring the two major parties is just so banal. The fact the parties exist is not an excuse for people to be alienated or decide to do nothing. Opportunities for civic engagement are out there for people who get off their rear ends, to vote among other things.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I’m guessing that the turnout in Maine was so high for several reasons: (1) There was an inititiative on the ballot to ban bear trapping, which drew a lot of activism; (2) there was a real contest between a Republican, a Democrat, and an Independent; (3) the Republican governor is a controversial figure; (4) some people wanted to stick to the Democrats for sucking.

      2. Oregoncharles

        I’ll certainly endorse vote-by-mail; it’s a huge improvement. Especially combined with the Voter’s Pamphlet, it’s not only more convenient but encourages THINKING about your vote.

        However, there’s another reason for the high turnout in Oregon: 3 major ballot initiatives: on Top-Two voting (failed, thank goodness), marijuana legalization (Yay!) and GMO labelling (lost, just.) Direct democracy does raise the turnout, when the measures matter to people.

  7. Paul Handover

    To set the scene, I offer this thought as a 70-year-old Brit who has been a US resident for 4 years, thus ineligible to vote.

    My thought being that if the reliability and security of online systems allows us to bank online, then it surely allows voting online. Thus it is the time for direct democracy, where each voter can indicate directly their desire for change, at a local and Federal level. Both here and back in my old country. Money and power MUST be taken out of politics. And soon!

    1. art yerkes

      Let’s not even *have* a parallel voting system. The money system we have has all the advantages over our ad-hoc, underfunded, half-inalienable voting system. While the supreme court treats voting as a malleable right, presently it treats money as speech and speech, thankfully, still as a right granted to all of us. Under those circumstances, I don’t see much downside to just letting us vote with our wallets to decide elections.

    2. different clue

      When political money power is at stake, digital elections can be reliably faked and hacked. And they reliably will be.
      Any voting should begin with a Legal Paper Ballot as the very first step in ballot-casting.

      1. ian

        I actually like the ‘purple thumb’ method you see in third world elections. Putting a thumb print is simple and verifiable, and makes it harder to vote twice.

  8. mad as hell.

    It’s a downhill trajectory. The demise of American democracy is pushed further down the hole by just another example of corrupt, self interest political parties. Wall street, healthcare, militarized police departments, Afghanistan, torture, stagnant wages, a biased criminal justice system, the war on drugs. All these issues are sapping the strength of this country and wrecking havoc on it’s most of it’s citizens and it’s principles.

    Money is the engine that is driving this colossal train wreck. Profit for either the corporation or the individual is paramount to all other needs. Money needs to get out of the picture in order to get this country back on track. I don’t see it happening any time soon. The current leaders, the current agenda and the tilt toward the moneyed interest will continue to uncouple this train.

    The MSM who is the engineer will continue on it’s route to confuse, placate and entertain the population. A vast majority will go along for that ride and accept it’s fate. Though many have given up on the voting process it will further be rigged by those that do participate through gerrymandering, voter id, limited voting hours and absentee ballots.

    So the mainstream media sugar coats these issues and continues to take us down the wrong track. The latest diversion is North Korea, Sony Pictures and getting George Clooney to hop aboard. They are telling me that the terrorists are winning because some assassination comedy is not being released because someone or something might be harmed if it is. I would argue that it shouldn’t be released because of good taste. I would say, you want to make a movie about killing a country’s leader and then make that movie into a comedy on top of that? If that premise doesn’t show the current state of how insane our ideas have become. Nothing will.

    1. RUKidding

      Like: I feel so “censored” by evil North Korea (who likely had nothing to do with the stupid Sony hack), but hey, hey I’m ok with the NSA senselessly spying on me (for my own good) & the heavily militarized PDs standing at the ready to beat the sh*t out of me if I attempt to exercise my alleged First Amend rights.

      Who’s censoring whom?

  9. ambrit

    Lest we become enamoured of our own ‘specialness,’ remember that somehow or other, the State, which these so called elections are supposed to control, has arrogated to itself exclusive “rights” to the use of violence. Police physical violence, Federal Reserve economic violence, Treasury Department fiscal violence; all are supposedly exclusively State rights. Who controls the make up of the State controls these forms of violent coercion. I suggest that the level of coordination required for a large State to function almost determines the nature of that State. If it depends on popular acceptance through voting, we have participatory Democracy. If it depends on monetary enabling, we have an Oligarchic sham.
    We need to rethink money.

  10. fladem

    Two numbers from the exit poll in 2014:
    By 63-32 those that did vote believe that the “U.S. Economic System Generally favors the wealthy”.
    BUT, 54% agreed with this: “Government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals”

    Those two numbers do more to describe the political situation than any other.

    Skepticism about the government includes non-voters. Pew polled non-voters before the election. BY 54-43 the believed that “government is always wasteful and inefficient “. Non-voters do think aid to the poor helps does more good than harm (by 54-43), while likely voters though aid to the poor does more harm than good (by 52-43).

    The authors are dead right to note the historic drop-off. This is complicated, in NY and California there was little competition at the top of the ballot: neither governor’s race was close. This was also true in Texas.

    Nonetheless it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the recovery’s failure to help broadly and perceptions about the health care law have left people deeply skeptical that the government can really help. This is exactly what the right wants.

    The left has largely won the argument that the US economic system is unfair. The problem is the electorate doesn’t think anyone can really do anything about it.

    1. jrs

      Little competition on the top of the CA ballot understates it, the Republican party chose not to even waste money to fund the campaign of Jerry Brown’s Republican challenger, so the election was as much as given to Jerry Brown. Although they could have been in theory, none of the propositions actually turned out to be competitive either. All broke by 60-40 margins pretty much.

  11. Denis Drew

    The labor situation in this country really stinks — but we are going to get it straightened out, possibly thus:

    (a) The (states and federal) constitutional right to freedom of association fully protects the right to start a boyscout troop or negotiate a labor contract (though the latter has not been thought about generally til now). Current federal law to set up unions actually prevents them — unconstitutional? Recognizing unionization as a First Amendment right could (should) allow states to institute their own union set up laws — not just a commercial matter any more; so no automatic federal priority. Immediate cessation of things like outlawing collective bargaining for state employees.
    (b) States can throw in the magic elixir of centralized bargaining: every employee doing the same kind of work (e.g., retail clerk) negotiates one common contract with all employers (Best Buy, Safeway, Walmart). States are supposed to be legislative laboratories.
    (b) The states to start this in are the liberal Western states (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada) — that are far enough away from every place else to be sort of their own economy (and country).

    Unlike freedom of commercial speech (e.g., advertising soft drinks) which ranks significantly short in importance to political speech, commercial freedom of association is so much an organic component of a free life, including political freedom (e.g., campaign financing and lobbying) that commercial association should rank not very short of political association, if short at all.
    * * * * * * * * * *
    Won’t go to work all out on this until I have read:
    The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the American Workplace, by Charles Morris

  12. Paul Tioxon

    Amazingly enough, with over a decade of high profile voter suppression tactics being carried out under the full glare of the nation media such FL state Harris’s assault on convicted felons being tossed from the registered voters list when they were really just Black men and women with not convictions, you’d think that the ongoing voter suppression assault would have to make a contribution to the voter turnout decreasing. Let’s look a Real News story about how voter suppression going in Republican controlled states has targeted 7 million registered voters using specialized software to cross check across state boundaries. Sounds like an assault on state’s rights to me, but I digress!

    Greg Palast discusses in this Real News report his investigation into voter rolls purging hundreds of thousands of primarily Black voters in the South. Enough so that the US Senate race “lost” by Kay Hagan was fixed by this voter suppression tactic that is allowing JIM CROW to make an awful comeback. Georgia is similarly affected in the past mid terms. To simply say how disgusted everyone is with both legacy parties and deeply investigated the fruits of a sustained effort by Republicans to suppress the vote by any means necessary is to support the nitwit narrative of political fatalism. The structural features of the American political systems are hand crafted and defended year by year to get the results you see. While the policies of the right wing Dems, the capitalist or neo-liberal wing of the party mimic the republicans on taxes and economics over all, the Republicans have systematically ensured a rightward move from the New Deal center of the American Consensus and have done so by eliminating as many low income and minorities as possible who will consistently vote democratic. In PA, the Congressional districts are so badly gerrymandered that out of 18 districts, 13 are Rep but the total votes cast Dem in Congressional races exceeds Reps! The entire makeup of the US Congress is being fabricated by this district voting structure. And it is not at all representative of the will of the voters, much less the people!
    Voter ID laws, voter registration rolls being purged, gerrymandered districts, not to mention on site voter challenges even if you are considered registered by the records at the polls, a voter intimidation scam, all of these have as much to do with low turn outs. If you are denied a vote, but wanted to vote, how is that counted? It isn’t. Much like the unemployment numbers, the labor participation rates, the Us U-1 through U-6, there is more than meets the eye.

  13. Llewelyn Moss

    The Repubs and Dems are completely bought-out by Wall St and The Corps. Forget them. They are lost causes.

    What we need is a new Populist 3rd party to emerge. Salvage the honest Dems — Warren, Sanders et al (literally about a baker’s dozen). And not allow in any corporate whores. I believe in democracy but not when it is run by Fascists (aka the current state of affairs).

    I know. I know. I want my unicorn. And the US Fascist govt will just pepper-spray any new party and club it to death with its unaccountable, brutal Police State. But what else you gonna try?

    1. Working Class Nero

      This really is the only way. What is the point of increasing voter turn-out if there are only two choices: Republicans and Democrats? Talk of low voter turnout or voter suppression is fundamentally pro-Democratic Party propaganda dressed up as analysis. What difference would it really make if Democrats had swept the 2014 elections? Would Wall Street be threatened? Would employment law be enforced? Would reindustiralization commence? No! The yawning gap between rich and poor is only going to increase no matter which legacy is in control.

      I live in a country where voting is mandatory and ID cards must be presented in order to vote. And in the end it doesn’t really make all that much difference since we have a parliamentary system which makes it hard for dissident parties to break into.

      In the US though, a rouge political element could easily capture the Presidency. An Independent, populist, and nationalist (in the sense of anti-globalization) ticket could do very well against another Clinton / Bush match-up. For example an Elizabeth Warren / Jeff Sessions ticket would blow minds and capture the imaginations and votes of middle America. But does Warren have it in her to go beyond being a financial geek and to step up to the next level and become a great statesperson?

      I hope she has lots of books about Charles de Gaulle on her Christmas wish list!

      1. Llewelyn Moss

        Ugh, Hillary Clinton vs Jeb Bush. Milton Friedman must have an erection — in his coffin.

        Warren has said convincingly that she won’t run. But Bernie sanders might run. And If not, I will write him in anyway.

      2. Left in Wisconsin

        I wouldn’t discourage a Warren independent candidacy because these things need to be put to the test from time to time – but all the historical evidence and current state and federal law suggests it would be impossible to win the presidency as an independent or third party. Plus, talk about banking on the “heroic leader”. Suppose she won. Do we really think she could get anything done with a conventional Congress? If not, then what?

        I still argue it makes much more sense to try to take over the D party – or at least pursue and inside/outside strategy – than to go all in on a third party. But it would be nice if the greens would at least give it a serious go.

        1. ian

          I like a lot of what Warren says, but wonder how much executive or managerial ability she has. This stuff does matter.

            1. ErnstThalmann

              That’s just because they haven’t funded her yet. Give ’em a couple of months. AIPAC gave her roughly $80,000 to support Israel’s slaughter of Gazan children and she didn’t stand up to them. The bankers just aren’t on board yet.

          1. Llewelyn Moss

            Any day of the week, I’ll take an honest person with no managerial skills who is on MY SIDE, over a person with great managerial skills who is on Wall Streets side and RIGGING THE GAME AGAINST ME (hint current state of affairs).

      1. Llewelyn Moss

        Now you tell me. After I voted for Obama, the Neoliberal in Dem clothing — this is not the “Change” I was looking for.

  14. Ignim Brites

    Given that two out the three other largest drop off in voting were when the nation was embarked on war, it seems likely that the President’s Declaration of War against ISIS was responsible for the fall off.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Or the declaration of war is an attempt by sitting Presidents to bolster support for economic grimness beca use there is a short term shine and rally around the flag event. Even in 2006, voters thought Team R w old be better at fighting terrorism than Team D*. The Iraq surge did nothing for the GOP.

      Since O’s numbers tanked after his re-elect or were exposed as soft, he has been itching to get into fights (ex. Syria, Asian pivot, Super Hitler Putin) because he has to know the country is teeming with poor people, but he also has to know he can’t blame the GOP for no strings attached corporate bailouts (how can so many mbas fail at running businesses? Anaheiser-Busch came back after prohibition, so contagion and tbtf are excuses for corporate incompetence) or the filibuster preventing all kinds of positive legislation. Naturally to avoid discussing what he should have done, Obama now has to defend the 500 MILLION EU from the drug and aid infected Russian Federation with its 145 million people and 20 million refugee/undocumented immigrant population. How will the EU remain free? Since most Americans don’t have a clue, it’s a convenient villain, and Putin is a short bald man who would never make it in U.S. politics. Even LeBron James and Tom Brady had to get plugs. If there were two people who didn’t need to worry about being bald, it’s them, but this is America.

      *Both parties know how to foster terrorism.

  15. Pelham

    Re the economy: Keep in mind that when we talk about recovering from this depression to a pre-crisis state such as existed in 2007 or 2006, we’re talking about returning only to what was already a very low and miserable state.

    We hear over and over again about household income and wages “stagnating” over the past 40 years or so, but that grossly understates the problem. The relevant number is the so-called middle class’ discretionary income after paying for necessities. And that number has sharply declined — not stagnated.

    It take $130,000 a year for a household of four to live a bare minimum middle-class life. This means that only 1 in 8 US households is middle class or better. The rest of us — 88% — are living in what may reasonably be described as varying degrees of poverty. This is the state of affairs that these two parties have inflicted upon us over the past four decades.

    That said, I don’t see how falling voter turnout is likely to change anything. This perceptive article is the exception to the mainstream media’s apparent rule that holds that any turnout at all is fine. And it would take billions of dollars for any kind of new party to get going, a prohibitive sum. So it appears we’re stuck.

  16. Paul Lafargue

    Given the situation analyzed in this article what is a proper response? I personally do not think a third party run makes sense given the electoral restrictions to be surmounted…. And anyway wouldn’t that be complicit with the current malaise? And while a passive “No” vote seems to be the current response, it occurs to me that an active “No” vote would be the next step. If even 10% of the electorate got their collective ass in gear to vote “No” it could not be ignored, could not be ascribed to indifference like the passive vote.

    In response to a similar situation in France, Paul Lafargue suggested that the voters cast their ballots for a horse (one of the candidates owned a large stable of race horses), seven decades before the Yippies nominated Pigasus in 1968.

  17. impermanence

    “Though Republicans jubilate now, the trend is probably as threatening to them as it is to the Democrats. The reason is stark: Increasing numbers of average Americans can no longer stomach voting for parties that only pretend to represent their interests.”

    Wait until they find out that it could never be any other way!

    [All] groups are designed by the few for their own benefit. It’s just much more obvious now.

  18. fresno dan

    “The first problem was the administration’s dismal economic policy record. Though some Democrats try to sugarcoat the dismal facts by focusing on changes since 2009, when the President assumed office, the truth is that the fruits of the recovery have gone lopsidedly to the very richest Americans”
    “The other reason for the messaging failure is graver, because responsibility for it cannot possibly be fobbed off on the Republicans. Though the full figures are still coming in, we are confident that what Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen demonstrated to be true in 2012 will hold for 2014, despite claims to the contrary in parts of the media: The President and the Democratic Party are almost as dependent on big money – defined, for example, in terms of the percentage of contributions (over $500 or $1000) from the 1 percent as the Republicans. To expect top down money-driven political parties to make strong economic appeals to voters is idle. Instead the Golden Rule dominates: Money-driven parties emphasize appeals to particular interest groups instead of the broad interests of working Americans that would lead their donors to shut their wallets.”
    I liked my Dec 17 comment so much, and it seems to fit so well, I decided to recycle it:

    irony or the Dunning Kruger effect? (choose which one most amuses yourself):
    “Similarly, Democratic strategists struggle to understand why 77 out the 100 poorest and most government-dependent counties in the United States voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.”

    (Carville) “I have no earthly idea why a stock market investor would vote Republican — all you have do is look at the numbers. The numbers are staggering, breathtaking and unimaginable. How anyone with even a penny in the market would vote for their interests and choose a Republican is unexplainable.”

    “Since Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, Standard & Poor’s 500 index has gone up approximately 115 percent, the Dow Jones industrial average has experienced a growth rate of 146 percent and, perhaps most impressively, Nasdaq has grown in size by 188 percent. Two thousand days into his presidency, the major stock indexes under Obama have had average gains of 142 percent — compare that to the record under Reagan, who saw gains at 88 percent during that same time period.”


    And Mr. Carville can’t see why people are skeptical about democrats….hmmm
    As for myself, I struggle to understand why ANYONE (other than the 0.01%) would vote for a republican or a democrat…

  19. Left in Wisconsin

    Excellent piece. But perhaps things are even worse than they indicate. Here is Wisco, we were one of the states with decent turnout this time around and it made absolutely no difference. The idea that turnout will solve our problems is wishful thinking.

  20. EmilianoZ

    We only have ourselves to blame if we cannot bring ourselves to vote for a 3rd party such as The Green Party.

    1. jrs

      While some cannot bring themselves to vote for a 3rd party because too scary … others get beaten on the streets trying to change this system with their very bodies.

        1. jrs

          simplified version: maybe I’m calling duopoly voters cowards

          less simplified version: if one is fed up with things and contemplates what may be necessary to change them such as civil disobedience with all the inherent risks (what does civil disobedience look like? well raising your own flag over and occupying the Oakland PD station is certainly a good example), the fact that the mass of voters completely throws away easy options like voting 3rd party to change things can seem quite frustrating. That’s what I’d call throwing away the vote and any arguable power in it.

          But whether voting would ever be enough anyway, I don’t know. The people of Ferguson are also told they can change things by voting, of course they’re not *even* preached the 3rd party option but strictly told to vote Dem.

  21. baldski

    I have read all the comments posted and I see no one addressing the enabler of a political system that allows the rapine and pillaging of the American worker. No one has brought up the US Supreme Court!

    If we the people want to change things, we have to seriously defang the blackrobes that sit at that lofty bench. This whole corrupt political system is allowed to nurture and grow because of two decisions by the Imperial court. One, Santa Clara county vs. Southern Pacific RR. and two, Buckley vs. Valeo. The first one made a corporation “a person” and the second equated “money is speech”. Add in “Citizens United” for the frosting on the cake and you have the destruction of democracy in America.

    And what gets me the most, is everybody gives those blackrobes a free ride. Never do you hear anybody ranting against them. Everybody wants to rail against Congress or POTUS. Nobody says a word against the enablers of this travesty. The media gives them a free ride also. It is time the people start an internet campaign against their power. They are the strongest branch of government and they are not elected to office and they serve for life! That is ridiculous. We need to limit their terms and curb their power.

    If we the people declare that corporations are not persons and money is not speech, our government can revert back to representing the people. This is the only hope I see for change. DE-FANG the COURT!

  22. RBHoughton

    I may have mentioned it on this site before but just in case I did not, my feeling is for a better enforcement of the constitution as the way ahead for American democracy.

    I think we might mobilise the vibrant sense of justice and fairness amongst youth and ask them, for a year or so after schooling, to enforce the constitution – specifically to ensure the balance of separation of powers, to record and publish Congressional debates, to monitor elections – so the intent of the Founders is preserved.

  23. Greenguy

    Public financing is not going to solve the problem, but it – like many other reforms – is required as minimum condition, a starting point for democratic elections. We should throw in term limits, frequent elections, initiative and referendum, local grassroots democratic councils, as well as caps on the amount of money that can be spent in elections, free air time and free mail for all candidates on the ballot. Proportional representation is probably as important as public financing in all this as well.

    There are good studies that show very low limits on donations plus spending caps are effective in creating more electoral competition, too.

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