Why Every Progressive Group in the Nation Needs to Focus Relentlessly on Voter Registration and Voter Turnout

I received the following e-mail yesterday afternoon:

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Martin, last night the NRA successfully recalled two Colorado state senators who had voted to pass good gun safety laws.

Democrats had more money and district demographics were in their favor. But the election came down to turnout and Republicans had more intensity and more reliable voters.

The biggest challenge facing us today isn’t ideology or public opinion—it’s that the emerging Democratic majority relies heavily on young voters, ethnic and racial minorities, and single women, all of whom are among the lowest performing voter groups. To make things worse, conservatives managed to eliminate vote-by-mail for this special election, creating further roadblocks to voter participation.

So, last night sucked, there’s no denying that. But the work we did was important.

The Daily Kos community stepped up in ways I never could have imagined. We were the only major media outlet to report regularly on the recalls, pushing back on the narrative that the NRA was setting. And 15,656 Kossacks stepped up to chip in over $350,000 to the Giron and Morse campaigns, providing them with the resources to match the NRA dollar-for-dollar. That is huge.

The NRA might have won last night, but it won’t last long. They know that public opinion is against them in a huge way. They know that demographics are moving against them in a huge way. They know that their victories will be fewer and farther between moving forward. And they know now that we have the people power to fight them every inch of the way until we win.

I am honored to have fought this campaign with you. I look forward to fighting alongside you again.

Keep fighting,
Markos Moulitsas
Founder and Publisher, Daily Kos

P.S. They won this round, but we’ll be back. Please chip in $3 right now to help keep Daily Kos going strong in the next fight.

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The Daily Kos is worth supporting simply for their “Elections Morning Digest” in which they provide updates on the latest polling, fundraising, advertising buys, and other factors affecting significant elections across the fifty states.

But, before commenting further on this e-mail from the Daily Kos, I want to make clear that, although I am more broadly very clearly a Progressive, I am most pointedly antagonistic toward the Far Right because it has become so blatantly and relentlessly hostile to public education, at both the K-12 and the post-secondary levels. I would be reluctant to identify myself as a single-issue voter, but I will admit that if a Republican who was an adamant supporter of public education were running against a Progressive who had somehow bought into the notions that corporatization, privatization, and MOOCs are the keys to “reforming” public education (e.g., Arne Duncan and Rahm Emanuel), I would vote for the Republican.

That said, there probably isn’t more than a handful or two of Republican candidates nationwide who could be said to be lining up to get my vote.

So, returning to the e-mail on the recall elections in Colorado, what seems to me to be its most important element is the second and third paragraphs, which have obvious implications beyond what just occurred in Colorado.

In fact, to elaborate on Markos Moulitsas’ point, it’s not just that demographics are swinging in Progressives’ favor in many Purple and Red States—that the most Progressive voting groups are growing–but it’s also the case that many Far Right constituencies are shrinking.

For instance, in the 60 and older age group, the most dependably Red voters are clustered at the older end of the age group, among those with the highest mortality, and the most likely Blue voters are clustered at the younger end of the age group, the just retired or soon to be retiring baby-boomers. Moreover, in the middle of that age group, polling has shown a gradual but steady shift back toward the Democrats, after thirty years of Republican dominance, because of concerns over continuing GOP efforts to make substantial changes to Social Security and Medicare.

Still, all of this polling and tracking of demographic shifts is, as Markos Moulitsas observes, completely pointless if Progressives don’t figure out how to improve turnout—and how to improve it dramatically.

In the 2010 elections, the Democratic turnout was abysmal, and the GOP took control of governorships and state legislature across the “Rust Belt.” In 2012, despite considerably higher vote totals for Democrats than for Republicans in almost every one of those states, the partisan redistricting that had occurred in 2010-2011 sustained large and disproportionate GOP legislative majorities at both the state and the federal levels. So, without very high turnout among Democratic constituencies in 2014, 2016, and 2018, the GOP will maintain control of most of the legislatures that they now control at least until the end of the decade.

It’s time to admit that the Obama victories in 2008 and 2012 simply have not translated into high Democratic turnout for other elections and are never likely to do so. And since it is clear that the solution is not going to come at the national level, it probably needs to come at the opposite end of the spectrum, at the local level.

I don’t think that Progressives even need to be overtly partisan in their efforts to increase turnout. I think that they simply need to recognize what the Far Right has already clearly recognized in passing many measures pointedly intended to reduce turnout. We simply need to make very determined, sustained efforts to register as many voters and to get as many voters to the polls as we possibly can. It doesn’t matter how any individual registers—what party affiliation any individual chooses. The higher the turnout, the more likely it will be that Progressives will win.

And each Progressive group needs to focus in particular on its own most immediate constituency. In academia, we need to focus our efforts not statewide or even countywide, but within our own institutions—among our faculty colleagues, the staff, and especially our students.

The task couldn’t be more simple, and yet, given the historical patterns, it couldn’t be more challenging. And it couldn’t be more critical because the attacks on public education have only been increasing in both frequency and intensity.

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