Saturday, November 19, 2016

Electoral Tactics - Down and Dirty as well as More Idealistic

Reading this piece about the Voting Rights Act and it likely becoming weaker to the point where it lacks meaning, since the Republicans will have control and will surely nominate a Supreme Court Justice who will give them control of the Court, I started to wonder if some other approach needs to be tried to counter this.  I'm going to suggest two different possibilities below.  The first is based on the notion that Republicans are better "game players" than the Democrats.  From a purely game playing perspective, what should the Democrats do to improve their chances in subsequent elections?

The second is based on the rather glum statistics about voter turnout historically, even when the Voting Rights Act was in full force.  Very little is written about those people who don't vote when it is not an issue of voter suppression.  I found this essay by Atul Gawande interesting on this point.  He grew up in a poor community in Ohio and still has friends there.  There is an anecdote given about one family who has opted out.  The economy served them poorly.  They lost faith in the system.  What can be done to restore their faith?  If the Democrats are seen as responsible for doing that, will they bring many heretofore discouraged voters back into the fold?

Then I will try to combine the two.  Might that provide a winning strategy to convert the popular electoral advantage that the Democrats already have into one where they have a majority in Congress (and where they recapture the White House.) 

The Down and Dirty Answer - Moving Votes to Where They Matter

When I was a third-year graduate student at Northwestern I began a collaboration with Leon Moses that lasted about a decade.  Leon was a Professor at Northwestern.  If my memory serves correctly, Leon and his family lived in Wilmette, the next town north of Evanston, where Northwestern is located.  Evanston itself is the first town north of Chicago that also borders Lake Michigan.  Leon and his family maintained a summer home in Door County, Wisconsin.  Knowing about this experience provided the seed for my idea.

Wisconsin used to be a reliably Blue state but, of course, Scott Walker, a Republican, is the Governor there now and in the recent election for President Wisconsin went for Trump.  So one thought is, what would it take for people in Leon's situation to switch their permanent residence from a Chicago suburb to Wisconsin?  Then repeat the question for other voters in reliably Blue states, California the most obvious one, and have their permanent residence change to some battleground state.  Then have this done in an organized and coordinated way.  Ask what numbers it would take to have such a move matter in this past election.  Could those numbers be approximated by this effort?  Note that Apple, which is located in Cupertino California, is incorporated in Nevada.  In a bit of irony, if corporations can do this sort of thing, why can't people do it as well?

There is at present a tilting at windmills approach that would be much cheaper to deliver the same sort of result and is getting a lot of attention.  That is doing away with the Electoral College.  Ask yourself, however, whether it is possible.  Why would the Republicans want that, given how much they are benefiting from the current system?  If Republicans don't want it and given that they control both Houses of Congress, how would it be possible?  If it were done as a Constitutional Amendment, then three fourths of the States would have to approve.  But State government is overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans now.  Given that, is getting rid of the Electoral College a realistic possibility?

Being a good game player recognizes what is possible and what isn't.  I don't know that getting voters to change their state residence by having a vacation/retirement property in the other state is do-able.  Surely there would be real costs on a per family change of residence of this sort.  But before ruling it out as a pipe dream, somebody should do the math.  The Democrats have lots of rich donors.  Suppose those donors heavily subsidized the second property, so the costs were largely borne by others than the voters themselves.  And suppose the party decided that this was a worthwhile strategy to pursue while TV ads, which are quite expensive, are basically throwing money away because they end up mainly preaching to the choir.  So one might reallocate campaign contributions or SuperPac contributions from a low productivity use to this alternative.  At the very least, there'd be a real strategy in place about how to make votes count.  Can this work?

The More Idealistic Approach

I get email from my Congressman, a Republican named Rodney Davis.  Champaign County surely votes Democratic but the rest of the Congressional District is far more conservative, which explains why Davis was reelected.   Mainly I ignore these emails, but in this case I started to read their planning document, A Better Way, particularly the section on Poverty.   I found it hard to read, more bromides than plan.  But my inescapable conclusion is that the Republicans will cut poverty programs, in the name of benefit for the poor, to get them out of being victims of their own lethargy.

This offers an opportunity to the Democrats, if only they might seize it.  Namely, the Democrats might substitute their own largess to replace/amplify/initiate support for programs that the Republicans will be cutting.  And here I mean this idealism to have a bit of Machiavelli.  To be eligible for this support the recipient must promise one thing.  The recipient must agree to vote.

The recipient should be free to vote for whomever the recipient wants.  This exchange is not vote buying.  But it is premised on the idea, why would one vote against the hand that feeds you?  In other words, the largess here is meant to be both socially responsible and politically fruitful.  The Democrats need more voters on their side.  This is one way to get them.  And it is an approach consistent with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, something that the document A Better Way denigrates, but something that Democrats should honor.

Combining the Two Approaches

Suppose new housing was constructed in locations where Democrats want to relocate their minions, according to the down and dirty answer, but suppose this housing was not individual residences and  instead was apartment complexes.  (It could be bungalows in a housing complex.  I am agnostic on the particular structure here, which should be chosen to match the locale.  What is important is to focus on multiple residences at a time, rather than on an individual residence.)  Then some of the housing could be allocated to others under the more idealistic approach, who have been living in poverty but are getting subsidized housing via this effort.

Indeed, an additional agenda item emerges here.  The issue is whether the two types of recipients can co-locate.   The goal would be to show that is possible and to determine those conditions that would make it likely.  There is much press recently about us moving apart from one another.  In that well off voters live elsewhere from those voters who are battling poverty.  What would it take for those people to live together in the same community?  Maybe asking that question, the effort will fail - a case of too much democracy.  So I am surely not arguing that this is a safety play.  But it should be clear, Democrats now don't have a safety play.

The right question to me is this.  What play, with attendant risks, offers the possibility of an upside?   It seems to me, what I have sketched here delivers on that.

I wonder if anyone else would agree.

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