Travel time on the road to a newspaper conference last week gave me more leisure than usual to run down the warren of rabbit holes that is political journalism c. 2020.
It’s weird out there, as you have probably noticed.
A couple of pieces caught my eye, one of which is simply a telling commentary on the American outlook: According to The Daily Beast, “Last year, more people (141 million) voted for their favorite videos on Pornhub than voted in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (139 million).”
The other was an in-depth Politico profile of Rachael Bitecofer, a flamboyant newcomer to the world of political forecasting, whose claim to fame is that she called the 2018 House elections quite accurately, based around a fairly radical theory that swing voters don’t matter much. At all.
“The classic view is that the pool of American voters is basically fixed: About 55 percent of eligible voters are likely to go to the polls, and the winner is determined by the 15 percent or so of ‘swing voters’ who flit between the parties. So a general election campaign amounts to a long effort to pull those voters in to your side.
“Bitecofer has a nickname for this view. She calls it, with disdain, ‘Chuck Todd theory of American politics’: “The idea that there is this informed, engaged American population that is watching these political events and watching their elected leaders and assessing their behavior and making a judgment.’”
“And it is just not true….
“‘In the polarized era, the outcome isn’t really about the candidates. What matters is what percentage of the electorate is Republican and Republican leaners, and what percentage is Democratic and Democratic leaners, and how they get activated,’ she said.”
Bitecofer also believes that “ideology isn’t as big a motivator as identity” in politics, which I think is spot on. Just witness politicians and voters alike twisting their purported beliefs into pretzels to support a position that boosts their side or hurts the other.
Being that classic independent “swing voter,” I’ve noticed that nobody really puts any effort into pulling me — or my friends who share my outlook — to their side. If, say, you value robust protections for public lands AND robust protections of your Second Amendment rights, you really don’t have a political home in 2020, and nobody is inviting you in out of the storm.
We likeminded folk — “the hardcore, radical center” as a friend jokingly called us last week — aren’t going to decide the national 2020 election. As far as the presidential election goes, none of us want ANY of the options we’re being presented with anyway.
That leaves people who have been raised, educated and conditioned to civic responsibility more than a little uncomfortable — but there it is. When you know your voice is not going to be heard – and is, in fact, not wanted — you have a couple of options. One is to yell and scream all the louder in the hopes that sheer volume will tell — the tactic of a two-year-old in a full-blown temper tantrum. But perhaps we’ve already got enough emotional incontinence to go around these days…
The other option is to turn your attentions to areas where your voice is not only heard, but welcomed. And that means going local.
The vast amount of psychological energy dissipated in hurricane winds of identity-based national politics — or caught up in various skeevy forms of entertainment — is better spent at home, enhancing our local environment. Participating in the civic life of the old home town is going to have a lot more impact than Facebook posts about national politics; mentoring a child carries more weight into the future.
We all know this — we just have to remind ourselves of it now and then, so we can break the tentacles of a political-entertainment nexus purpose-built to keep us uselessly wrought up and mashing those click links.
Time for this swing voter to go for a hike.