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Change attitudes, not accessibility, to increase LA voting

“I'm certainly going to make it a personal mission to increase voter turnout” – new Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.

Good luck with it. What most politicians and those who do not study voting behavior do not understand is nonvoting is much more an attitudinal problem than structural problem. That is, you can make it tremendously easy to vote but you’ll barely increase the rate of voting. Or (as I remind my classes), you can lead a person to a voting booth, but you can’t make him vote.

Political scientists have learned that five attitudes essentially govern the rate of voting for individuals: (1) strength of identification with candidates, (2) strength of attachment to parties, (3) perceptions of party competitiveness, (4) feeling of the importance of elections, and (5) feelings of political efficacy (that is, how strongly do they feel they have the ability to make a difference in politics). Let’s take these in turn with Louisiana.

On the first, given the personalistic political culture in Louisiana, this would argue for higher turnout in Louisiana relative to other states. This, however, is more than compensated for by the next two because the institution most able to entice people to vote is the political party (after all, their job is to win elections and you win elections by getting people into the voting booth). No other institution comes close in ability to mobilize voters. But we have the weakest parties in America in Louisiana and, until recently, no real competition between the major ones.

The fourth factor is devalued by the large number of election dates and the fact that Louisiana insists on having state elections and most parochial elections not concurrently with federal elections, as all but three other states do. Making them concurrent raises the value of any given election to the voter, because more is at stake. The fifth also depresses turnout: when you have a dysfunctional state government that has guided the state to the bottom of almost any meaningful quality of life indicator, that tends to sap people’s belief they can influence the world of politics. Simply, they get discouraged which does not prompt them to vote.

So if Dardenne is serious about this, he has to find ways to change these attitudes. Putting satellite centers in shopping malls isn’t going to cut it. In fact, in a legal sense, there’s little he can do to change these attitudes.

But he can play the role of advocate. He can stump for laws that increase the power of political parties, that reduce the number of election dates, and that make state and parochial elections concurrent with federal ones. There’s not a lot he can do about changing the defeatist, fatalistic attitude many have about Louisiana government, except to speak as much as possible about the things that hold it back and to articulate support for a reformist agenda.

These are the things to do to try to pump up voting rates. If he restricts himself to addressing only the infrastructural concerns (which is largely what the Secretary of State only can do in a formal sense), he has little chance of succeeding in his personal mission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If it's one thing that the "term limited" politicians have learned over the decades that they have been in office, is you start the campaign for his next run the day after his last election. He's not stupid!?! He knows he only has one year then he has to do the ole 'two step' all over. All this talk about malls is garbage coming out of his mouth...just campaign talk; pure and simple. Keep the spotlight on himself. Self serving.