The election results are in, and the postmortem examination has been all over the Internet.
Generally grim news for conservatives and Republicans in California. Most of the analysis has focused on broadening appeals to minorities and women.
That may well bear fruit but I wanted to focus on something else – the voters that didn’t show up.
Prior to the election, there was an announcement that we had set a new record in California with 18.2 million people registered to vote. Then we held the election but only 9 million voted.
What happened to those other 9 million? In my district in and near San Diego, Brian Bilbray appears to have lost by only a few hundred votes. But only about 207,000 total votes were cast. That’s probably considerably less than 50% – in a district that is likely above average in income and education.
In the 39th state senate district, Marty Block (D) beat George Plescia (R) by 40,000 votes – but only 263,000 total votes were cast; again, this is less than half of those registered.
In every election there are certainly a number of registered voters who don’t show up. Some may be out of town (and didn’t bother or forgot to get an absentee ballot); some may be intending to vote but got sick that day; some may have forgotten (hard to believe but possible); some may have just had other things to do that were more important that day (also hard to believe given the avalanche of propositions and the advertising that accompanied them).
Still and all, we have to surmise that a huge number just felt it didn’t matter if they voted.
Some would argue that it is a rational decision. After all, for a long time, it almost hasn’t mattered to many people whether Democrats or Republicans got elected – taxes always seemed to go up; spending certainly has.
This was certainly true on the national level. You can’t help but think people felt dismayed when George W. Bush ran as a small government reformer and then turned around and expanded spending and government almost as much as the current occupant. To too many potential voters, this year’s Republican nominee seemed too much of more of the same.
Some would also argue that people are turned off by politics. They see the avalanche of advertising – most of it negative, because that works on the dwindling percentage who do vote – and think that the funders of all those ads are the ones who will get their way in Sacramento and Washington.
And can you blame them? Because that is exactly what they see happening.
Most California voters never get to meet their representatives, let alone have any influence on them.
Meanwhile, political consultants on both sides make a lot of money off of those ads. Advertising is easy to buy – just get the TV and radio rate card and collect a commission. You have to convince a bunch of wealthy donors to let loose of some of their hard earned money for this but for many of those donors the access to power is a large part of why they contribute. It is just a ‘cost’ of doing business to some extent.
What the Republican party needs to do is re-examine its operating practices. It certainly has to reassess its policies; that is a constant.
But it needs to also do the tough grassroots work to bring out its vote. It has to eschew the easy solution of TV and radio ads and glossy mailers and do the tough work of going door to door and bringing out its vote.
I believe the vast majority of voters don’t want government to support them; they don’t want their hard earned money to be spent by government; they don’t like the waste and corruption they see in government.
The 9 million non-voters are out there. To bring California back from the brink, we need to dedicate ourselves to finding them and convincing them that we will accomplish real, positive policy changes.