Tag Archives: voting

Running from Race is Hard in the Presidential Race

New Orleans       It’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, so what better time to talk about the still unresolved, raw issues around race that continue more than 150 years after his death.  Evidence abounds that you can’t run from issues around race, as we examine increased scrutiny of Democratic presidential candidates, and their forced confrontations with the issue to their peril.

Former Mayor Peter Buttigieg has borne the brunt of a number of recent commentaries over his comments late in his term in the small city of South Bend, Indiana that he was surprised to find the level of segregation in the local schools.  A racialized killing involving a cop brought him off the campaign trail while he was still mayor to deal with the crisis to less than rave reviews.  His abysmal polling at around 6.6% in the latest 538 summary indicates he’s a very tough sell outside of the white castles of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar is having to answer questions about her time as prosecuting attorney in the Twin Cities and her role in the conviction of an African-American teenager that remains a controversy.  Her law and order claims have had to confront questions about how she handled race in the overwhelmingly white St. Paul / Minneapolis area.  Another white settlement in the spotlight problem.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is appropriately finding it hard to paper over the years of damage his top-of-his-lungs advocacy of destructively racist stop-and-frisk policies by the police with a simple apology.  The fact that it was racial profiling is beyond debate.  The fact that it led to huge incarceration rates of black and brown New Yorkers during his many terms in office is also beyond dispute.  Millions of dollars in television ads has bought him a 7.8% showing in South Carolina so far, just as billionaire Tom Steyer’s millions have him now standing at 10%, but those numbers don’t indicate that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.

Senator Bernie Sanders faces some of the same dilemma with all of his political experience coming from snow white Vermont.  The Census Bureau still classifies Vermont as the whitest state in the country with somewhere between 95 and 96% of the population easily lost in the winter there.  In Vermont, it’s a white-in, not a white-out, when a winter storm breaks.  Sanders has worked hard to offset his inexperience with race, and his experience in the primaries in 2016 and now again in 2020 shows that he has made some progress perhaps but still runs far behind former Vice-President Joe Biden, who has dealt with race by embracing President Obama in a bearhug and constantly citing their eight years together.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren isn’t having to sweep up mountains of problems in her past record, but clearly has not been able to catch fire with African-American voters yet either.  She may continue to be damaged in the kerfuffle of her claims to Native American heritage there.

African-Americans are the largest, most unified voting block in the Democratic Party.  Ambition may trump everything else, but how can any candidate believe they can win in the primaries or against Trump without uniting black votes and dealing aggressively in every way possible with the issues of race?

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Don’t Mourn, Hit the Doors!

New Orleans       What a week!  It was pretty much a full-on-Trump-arade!  Rarely have we read or heard so many pundits wringing their hands and tearing their hair since they were forced to walk-back the headlines they had already written in 2016 crowning Hillary Clinton the winner.  The general consensus after the inevitable and long expected impeachment acquittal and the gut punch surprise of the Iowa meltdown is that we now have Trump Unleashed.  Turns out Trump 2.0 is is not totally different from Trump 1.0, but if it can get worse, it will get worse.  Many are coming to grips with the fact that has also been obvious for quite some time:  Trump could win in 2020!  In fact, some of the observers are already throwing in the towel after this worse week ever.

All of which found me going back and re-reading an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago by Hugo Percier, a cognitive scientist in Paris who was opining about whether political campaigns change minds.  Here’s a spoiler alert:  no, not much.  For those who are hyperventilating about the huge war chest that President Trump has already assembled, take a deep breath.  Percier relies heavily on extensive mail surveys conducted by Professor Alan Gerber of Yale University who found that campaign mail had almost no impact.  He looked at other studies that focused on advertising and concluded that ads had no impact, except perhaps in primary campaigns where voters are still searching.  Percier doesn’t want to leave social media out of the equation and cites a study of social media ads done by researchers at Google and Microsoft who concluded the persuasive impact of such ads is so small they couldn’t come to a clear conclusion that it changed minds.  The heart of Percier’s argument was that for the most part when people find a message that challenges their views, on a candidate for example, the first reaction is to reject it.  The only exception, importantly, is “when provided with the right reasons by the right people, however, we do change our minds.”

The only place that really happens is on the doors in direct person-to-person conversations.  How do people know?  Well, from watching ACORN.  The same Professor Alan Gerber of Yale and Professor Donald Green of Columbia note the effectiveness of such work in a 2016 jointly authored paper entitled, “Field Experiments in Voter Mobilization:  An Overview of Burgeoning Literature”:

Two experiments conducted in 2003 gave early indications that advocacy campaigns could be quite effective in mobilizing voters. In Kansas City, the ACORN organizationcanvassed extensively in predominantly African American precincts. Its aim was to identify and mobilize those supportive of a ballot measure designed to preserve local bus service. Unlike most other canvassing experiments, this one was randomized at the level of the precinct, with fourteen assigned to the treatment group and fourteen to the control group. Among voters assigned to control precincts (N = 4,779), turnout was29.1 percent, compared to 33.5 percent in the treatment group, 62.7 percent of whom were contacted (Arceneaux 2005). At roughly the same time, ACORN canvassed in Phoenix on behalf of a ballot measure to determine the future of the county hospital (Villa and Michelson 2005). ACORN conducted two rounds of canvassing, the first to identify voters sympathetic to the ballot measure and a second to urge supportive voters to vote. The canvassing effort targeted voters with Latino surnames who had voted in at least one of the previous four elections. ACORN made multiple attempts to contact voters (including making a small number of phone calls), the result being that 71 percent of those living in one-voter households were contacted at least once. This figure rose to 80 percent among two-voter households. This mobilization campaign had a powerful effect on turnout. Among one-personhouseholds, turnout rose from 7.4 percent in the control group (N = 473) to 15.9 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,666). Among two-person households, turnout rose from 6.9 percent in the control group (N = 72) to 21.0 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,550).

You get the message?  Don’t mourn, organize!  And, more to the point, get out on the doors, have person-to-person conversations, and move people to the polls to vote in their own interest for change.  Snooze, and we all lose.  Hit the doors, and we win.

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