Shifting Sands 2

Thursday, September 29, 2005
What do you consider to be the most significant political bloc in the US? Conservatives? Liberals? Democrats? Independents? Republicans? What do you consider to be the largest single definable bloc? The most constant, both in size and durability?

I didn't list it but the largest bloc is always the non-voting, non-participating bloc. Since 1980 (and much further back, if one cares) the non-participating bloc has averaged 45% of the VEP (voting eligible population) in Presidential election years and 60% in the Congressional/State/Local election years. There have been occasional studies of this bloc from time to time but I have read none which are particularly insightful. The reason for the lack of insight may be that non-voters tend to be non-responders as well. It's difficult to accurately survey a group unwilling (in many cases unable) to answer questions. I surmise that antipathy (no one listens to me), ignorance and sloth account for the motivations of the overwhelming majority of those choosing not to participate. If that surmise is true, then we should be eternally grateful that voting is not mandatory for the ignorant and slothful who, if forced to vote, will vote themselves a larger share of the treasury whenever possible.

As to the antipathetic, the second largest turnout within the VEP occurred in '92 (surpassed only by the extraordinary turnout generated last year through intensive effort by both campaigns). Perot's demagogic performance elicited a very positive response in terms of turnout but the value of the final outcome is questionable. That outcome should raise serious questions among those who favor higher participation at the polls. It should also give some pause to those who think that a third party is necessary or desirable. 'New' parties (in the past hundred years) have tended to arise either around men with 'new' ideas or around 'new' ideas which have drawn the most ruthless men in history to try and impose said novel idea at any cost and by any means.

Let us celebrate the antipathy, ignorance and sloth of the largest single political bloc. It has proven a blessing to the Republic in the past and if its membership finds happiness in apathy, who are we to disparage them?


David Thomson said...

This is why I ridicule polls focusing on the general public. I only want to to know about those dealing with likely voters! Are the Republicans in deep trouble? Nope, they still retain the upper hand in the 2006 elections. Republicans are generally more astute and mature than Democrats. They have a far better understanding of what’s really going on.

Knucklehead said...


Is there any data on how stable the non-participating bloc is? I'm curious about if there is a hard-core, never gonna vote, no way, no how, bloc. I speculate that there is.

The fact that it shrinks a bit for POTUS elections is somewhat interesting in a negative sort of way - the elected official most distant from our daily lives is the one we are most likely to get out and vote for.

Perhaps the difference between those who vote in no elections at all and those who only vote in POTUS elections identifies the size of the VEP who seem to believe presidents are, or of rights ought to be, dicatators who share their view of what is and isn't benevolent. That would place them as somewhere around 15% of the VEP.

You've almost certainly got the bulk of it pegged wrt why they don't vote. And I agree with you on being glad that that sleeping dog is content to continue sleeping.

When I meet people who admit to never voting I do not encourage them to start. If they can't exert that small effort I feel it reasonable to assume they don't exert the larger effort of actually figuring out who to vote for. That may be unfair since one is unlikely to learn that someone is a non-voter unless one is engaged in a discussion of an impending election and they seem to have political opinions. These are the ones, I suppose, who feel "disenfranchised" - if only the system were "good enough" to provide a candidate they could "get behind" they'd vote.

Whatever their motivations, or lack thereof, I'd prefer they keep on keeping on as far away from the booth as possible.

truepeers said...

Rick, Australia has mandatory voting. Do you know of any studies that suggest that has had an effect on making it more of a welfare state, or more of anything, than it might have been otherwise?

If you compare Aus. to the countries it is perhaps most like, Canada and NZ, I think you would find the Aussies a slightly less educated, somewhat more class-divided country. But the image of their less educated is of a rather rambunctious, freedom-loving, lot. I don't think the Austrialians are more prone to socialism than Canadians or Kiwis. Working-class Aussies remind me more of the red-state Scotch-Irish Americans. Is that why Australia can get away with mandatory voting, and still get their share of conservative governments, even as many of the elites there are socialist in their leanings?

chuck said...

I recall a poll, taken some years back, in which some 5% or more couldn't identify the sitting president. I haven't seen any more data about this, but the number doesn't surprise me. Yes, we too live in a bubble, the bubble of those who pay at least some attention to the world at large.

Rick Ballard said...


I don't know about the stability of the bloc. I've never seen any information on it. One can make some suppositions based upon general behavior and knowledge of the general attributes of the actual voters. Mental retardation and heavy addiction afflict about 9% of the general population but the VEP does not include those institutionalized so I'm not sure what percentage to ascribe for that case. Age and societal condition have a high correlation to not voting but time takes care of the one and the other is in constant flux. I suppose a safe SWAG would be 15% leaving 30% who will vote on occasion.


My brother is Australian, I'll pass your question on to him. If I were to guess I would say that a persons economic status plays a much higher part in socialist leanings than does heritage. A particular societies cultural view of risk taking and the cultural penalty for economic failure due to risk taking tends to be determinative. Those factors go hand in hand with the availability of opportunity for individuals to engage in economically lucrative behavior.

If the state bars you from achievement via personal enterprise by imposing stifling regulation it makes sense to try and recover some of the denied economic benefit by voting yourself a larger chunk of the treasury.

Knucklehead said...


Here's what seems like a reasonable primer on compulsory voting. I don't know anything about IDEA - could be a coven of commies for all I know. The idea of compulsory voting never crossed my mind before that I can recall.

Here's some guy making the case for it up your way.

And here's a Slate article specifically about Australia (yeah, I know, its Slate but gimme a break, willya).

truepeers said...

Knuck, thanks for the links.

From the Slate article:

Mandatory voting isn't politically neutral. It's bound to affect which parties do well at the polls and which do not. In general, political scientists believe the practice gives a slight edge (2 percent or 3 percent) to liberal parties, since presumably the poor and disenfranchised, once forced to the polls, tend to vote liberal (although Australia did just re-elect conservative* Prime Minister John Howard).

Australia also has a much higher rate of spoiled ballots than nearly any other democracy. There were 500,000 such ballots (out of 10 million cast) in this month's election. These include protest votes and those cast by recent immigrants who were confused by the notoriously complicated ballots. It does not include "donkey votes," so named because apathetic voters play pin the tail on the donkey at the polling station, randomly making their selections.

-apparently they are also more prone simply to vote for the first name on the ballot

-Even Slate comes down against the idea of mandatory voting. As for the Canadian advocate, Mac Harb, a Liberal with connections to an immigrant group, a cynic might think the Liberals might see mandatory voting as advantageous because they would expect to get votes from immigrants, not yet familiar with the system, who often don't vote but when they do often vote Liberal.

After reflecting a little, I cannot see good reasons for mandatory voting. I think the best argument against it is that not bothering to turn up to support a party that you usually vote for, but cannot this time because of their poor performance - and you don't want to vote for anyone else or waste time to spoil a ballot which is a kind of actively resentful gesture that those who might choose passively to sit out an election should not have to make - is an important input to the system. When there is low turnout the pols get the message that their game is not drawing attention but rather excluding many. We need our institutions to have legitimacy, but they should have to earn it, not that the terminally apathetic or resentful have much legitimacy to confer and probably should be largely ignored; democratic legitimacy cannot ever be very real if voting is forced with sanctions.

Mandatory voting laws that are not enforced might be a decent symbolic gesture on behalf of the idea of democracy. But people need to buy into democracy on their own free will.