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How today's political campaigns try to keep you from going to the polls


Here’s something that has changed in politics in this country, and I think it is a very disturbing trend. Back in ancient times, like say the 1980s, campaigning was largely about persuading voters.

We took it for granted that modern voters made their minds up, as the saying went, “based on the man, not the party.”

Everybody knew that there were diehard Democrats and rock-ribbed Republicans who would support their party’s candidates, no matter what, but they were seen as old-fashioned dinosaurs.

Well, things have changed. Dinosaurs are back.

The parties are more sharply divided than they’ve been in my lifetime. Swing voters are an endangered species.

Campaigns aren’t mostly about persuasion anymore, but strategic turnout. Candidates don’t really expect to convert many people. What they want to do is get their troops to the polls, and get the other side’s voters to stay home.

That’s why you will see so many negative ads this fall, or even earlier.

Let’s face it: Voters who believe in unions are not going to vote for Rick Snyder, the governor who signed legislation making this a right-to-work state.

However, if they can be disillusioned about Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate, some of them might not vote.

Same thing for strongly anti-abortion and fundamentalist Christian voters. Democrats hope to disillusion them about Snyder taxing their pensions, so that some will be disgusted and stay home.

Both parties are going to be putting energy and vast resources into highly sophisticated operations aimed at getting those sympathetic to them to cast ballots, either at the polls or absentee.

Four years ago, Rick Snyder won by a landslide – mostly because Democrats stayed home. Republican Snyder got far fewer votes than Democrat Jennifer Granholm had four years before. But Snyder won by even a bigger margin than she had because there were nearly a million fewer Democratic votes for governor.

This political polarization has other effects, nearly all of them bad.

A man in his nineties, a moderate Jewish Republican, asked me why most candidates were so extreme.

“It used to be that both sides would try to find some common ground with their constituents,” he said.

Not anymore. That’s in part because outrageous gerrymandering has created mostly one-party districts, where the only real contest is in the primary election, not the general.

This effectively disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters in those districts, whose representatives feel they can safely be ignored.

To me, this is bad for democracy and bad for government.

There are things we could do to fix this. One is turn redistricting over to a non-partisan commission, which would use computer models to draw sensible districts of equal size.

Districts that kept communities with common interests together. Kalamazoo and Battle Creek should be in the same congressional district, and were for many years, until they were divided because of partisan gerrymandering.

We also need to get rid of term limits, which have allowed lawmakers to put off dealing with long term problems. 

We are in a battle for this state’s economic future, and survival, and we all need to be in this together. Elections should be about finding the best people who can motivate us to do just that.                                          

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