The Numbers Don't Lie - We are Becoming Less Partisan

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

Political partisanship is on the decline in the United States.  Despite the increasing partisanship in Congress, a look at the numbers indicates that the nation is less divided by partisanship than at any time in recent history.

To determine if we are becoming more or less partisan as a nation, you need to look at two things:  First, how many of us are identifying ourselves as politically aligned with one party or the other?  Second, how are we reacting to the new president?   The answers to these questions point to less partisanship, not more.

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Two Reactions. One Leader.

Cross-posted at Motley Moose.

In light of the historic--and troubling--events that transpired on Capital Hill, I believe it's worth looking at how our presidential candidates responded.  In a moment of crisis in which the people are anxious and Congress cannot overcome partisan bickering, how did Senator Obama and Senator McCain react?

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Compulsory Turnout?

(cross posted at kickin it with cg)

With the ever increasing partisan divide and voter participation rates steady at about 50% to 60% in presidential contests, the key to winning in general elections is turnout.  And the key to success is turning out one's ideological base.  Whichever party does a better job getting its base to the polls reaps the rewards of majority status.  And what's the best way to get the base to show up at the voting booth? Focus on divisive issues that underscore the differences between the parties.  

It has been suggested that compulsory voting may influence the focus of a campaign towards swinging voters, with candidates and political parties trying to win the votes of the undecided, rather than motivating their "base" supporters to the polls. Thus it could be argued that politicians might adopt more centrist and less extreme policies in order to appeal to the relatively small group of swinging voters, rather than to their broader base constituencies.

Over twenty countries in the world including Singapore, Cyprus, Greece, Austria and Belgium, have forms of mandatory voting which require their citizens to register to vote and to go to their polling place or vote on election day.  However one of the most well-known compulsory voting systems is in Australia.

All eligible Australian citizens over the age of 18 must be registered to vote and show up at the poll on election day. Those who do not vote are subject to fines although those who are incapable of voting on election day can have their fines waived.

Compulsory voting in Australia was adopted in the province of Queensland in 1915 and subsequently adopted nationwide in 1924. With Australia's compulsory voting system, there is additional flexibility built in for the voter - elections are held on Saturdays, absent voters can vote in any state polling place, and voters in remote areas can vote before an election (at pre-polling voting centers) or via mail.  

Voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia was as low as 47% prior to the 1924 compulsory voting law. In the decades since 1924, voter turnout has hovered around 94% to 96%.  In 1924, Australian officials felt that compulsory voting would eliminate voter apathy. However, compulsory voting now has its detractors. In their Fact Sheet on Voting, the Australian Electoral Commission provides some arguments in favor and against compulsory voting.

Some arguments in favour of compulsory voting:

-Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform (e.g. taxation, compulsory education, or jury duty).
-Government reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate."
-Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management.
-Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll.
-Voter are not actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.

Some arguments against compulsory voting:

-It is undemocratic to force people to vote - an infringement of liberty.
-The "ignorant" and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls.
-It may increase the number of spoiled votes.
-It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates - political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates.
-Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons.

Advocates of compulsory voting might argue that such a system has a higher degree of representation, and that low voter participation in a voluntary election is in itself an expression of the citizenry's political will and could indicate satisfaction with the political establishment in an electorate.

Either way, with compulsory voting general political apathy is harder to find and that's always a good thing.

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Obama's Subtle, Shrewd Partisanship

A year ago, frustrated at the apparent acceptability of Republican candidates in those early head-to-head match-up polls, I wrote:

So my question is why the hell are Republicans doing this well in these match-ups?  Why are they seen as even within the realm of acceptability when in poll after poll people are sending a dramatic message that the country, after 6 years of all Republican rule all the time, is on the wrong track (71% and 69% in the LA Times/Bloomberg and NBC/WSJ polls respectively.) Clearly, Democrats have not made the case that the failures of the Bush presidency are more than the sum of the errors in judgment of one man but rather are the result of Republican policies and governance (or lack there of) at every level. They need to start.

Barack Obama's particular reluctance to speak in partisan terms and to brand the GOP as unacceptable -- and in fact, on the contrary, his willingness to promote a unity message as though Republicans are interested in anything other than obstruction -- was especially frustrating to me, so when he became the nominee I was even more concerned that our Democratic standard-bearer would roll over when it came to branding the opposition. I was wrong.

Not only, as I wrote yesterday, has Obama been effectively and swiftly returning fire against McCain and company on their claims that he is "naive" when it comes to terrorism, but try googling "Obama GOP" and you get a sense of how Obama's position is generally being framed by the media:

The Chicago Tribune's The Swamp:

Obama: GOP Not Credible On Terror

Barack Obama told reporters today that he would take no lectures from Republicans on which candidate would keep the nation safer from terrorism, rebuking John McCain aides who tried to portray him as naive on the struggle against Al Qaeda, according to the Associated Press.

The AP via HuffPo:

Obama: GOP Tactics The Reason Bin Laden Is Still Free

A defiant Barack Obama said Tuesday he would take no lectures from Republicans on which candidate would keep the U.S. safer, a sharp rebuke to John McCain's aides who said the Democrat had a naive, Sept. 10 mind-set toward terrorism.


Obama: GOP Lacks Post-9/11 Credibility

Democrat Barack Obama has signaled that he'll take no lectures from Republicans on who will keep America safer. [...]

Obama shot back to reporters that the Republicans have no "standing to suggest that they've learned a lot of lessons from 9/11."

He said they "helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11."

He said Osama bin Laden is still at large in part because of their failed strategies

So, has Obama become some partisan warrior all of the sudden, railing against the opposition party? Hardly. Look at his comments to reporters over the past couple of days and you won't find one criticism of "Republicans" or "the GOP" anywhere. In fact, the only time he does use the party name is to indicate where he has agreed with them:

I have made the same arguments as Republicans like Arlen Specter, countless Generals and national security experts, and the largely Republican-appointed Supreme Court of the United States of America - which is that we need not throw away 200 years of American jurisprudence while we fight terrorism.

But when he is being critical of Republicans, he uses phrases such as "the other side," specifies "George Bush and John McCain" or uses a "the people who..." formulation like so:

Well I refuse to be lectured on national security by people who are responsible for the most disastrous set of foreign policy decisions in the recent history of the United States. The other side likes to use 9/11 as a political bludgeon. Well, let's talk about 9/11. [...]

...George Bush and John McCain decided in 2002 that we should take our eye off of Afghanistan so that we could invade and occupy a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. The case for war in Iraq was so thin that George Bush and John McCain had to hype the threat of Saddam Hussein, and make false promises that we'd be greeted as liberators. They misled the American people, and took us into a misguided war.

Here are the results of their policy. Osama bin Laden and his top leadership - the people who murdered 3000 Americans - have a safe-haven in northwest Pakistan, where they operate with such freedom of action that they can still put out hate-filled audiotapes to the outside world. That's the result of the Bush-McCain approach to the war on terrorism.

Obama's true message, however, as the above media reports reflect, is crystal clear: it is the Republicans that got us into this mess and it is the Republicans who have no credibility on national security. And because Obama has the reputation for not being a partisan flame thrower, the media's framing of what he said in this way is actually likely to have more impact than it might coming from, say, Hillary Clinton.

Well played, Senator.

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This one's for Vickie

     My aunt Vickie probably voted a few weeks ago in the Virginia primaries. I know that if she did, she voted for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, because she would never vote for a Republican. I don't know which one she voted for, because I never got a chance to ask her. She passed away Saturday night in Virginia, and we buried her here in Georgia beside her husband and infant son this morning.
    If you'll come with me over the jump, I'll tell you a little more about her life, her death, and what it means to me in this political season.

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