Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Why progressives need to work on voter registration ...


... because if we don't, the work isn't going to get done among people we believe ought to have a chance to vote.

Via Ezra Klein comes a study by a couple of political scientists showing that state legislators are unlikely to bother to help people they think are African-American to get registered. They experimented by having (imaginary) individuals who called themselves "Jake Mueller" and "DeShawn Jackson" email state reps for registration assistance. They figured the legislators (or their staffs) would assume Jake was white and DeShawn was Black.

Guess what? "DeShawn" was less likely to get an answer, especially if the legislator contacted was white and even if that state rep was a Democrat! What the investigators call "minority Democrats" -- meaning I assume non-white Democrats -- were consistently more likely to aid a "DeShawn." "Minority Republicans" are simply a rare breed among Republican state legislators.

The implications are scary.

... white Democrats discriminate at rate[s] similar to white Republicans. Much of the reason that we observe Democrats exhibiting on average less differential treatment than their Republican counterparts towards the Jake alias is thus related to the racial composition of Democratic legislators. The minority legislators in the Democratic party exhibit differential treatment in favor of the DeShawn alias that, when averaged with the differential treatment of Jake exhibited by white Democratic legislators, makes it appear that Democrats on average do not engage in discrimination. Yet, when comparing white Republicans and white Democrats, the differences in their levels of discrimination are far smaller—less than one percentage point.

In order to reduce discrimination, apparently we need to elect more Democrats of color -- and we need to register more voters of color if we are going to put Dems of color in office.

The 2012 Obama re-election campaign seems to assume that it will continue its dominance in the 18-25 age cohort -- and it probably will, because more than any older cohort, this is a racially mixed group that leans progressive and Democratic. They aren't going to be voting for some flat-earther Republican. Thirty-four percent of this group were people of color in 2008, as compared to 24 percent of the electorate including all age groups.

But there's a problem: according to a study from Project Vote many of these people were first time voters -- and they've moved since 2008. They need to be re-registered if Dems want them to turn out in 2012.

Only 88 percent of 2008 first-time voters said that they were registered to vote at the address where they were living in the summer of 2010 when Project Vote conducted its poll. This is a full 10 percentage points lower than both the national electorate and black voters as a group, and five percentage points lower than youth voters as a group. New voters appear to be more mobile than other voters, which suggests they should be prime targets for renewed registration and voter mobilization efforts if the gains made in bringing them into the electorate are to be preserved.

Voter registration is difficult, labor-intensive work.You can easily spend an afternoon at a shopping mall with the forms and not sign up more than ten people. This is a project where progressives are going to miss ACORN in 2012. Unions will sometimes fund this work, but their outreach is weak to the relevant populations. Who is going to fill the voter registration gap for the upcoming election?

1 comment:

George Wells George Wells said...
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