Jay Leno used to do a segment called “Jay walking” in which he would stop people at random on the street and ask them to identify politicians everyone should know from the news, like president, vice president, leaders of Congress, etc. This segment was always depressing to me, because it demonstrated just how ignorant and disengaged most Americans are from the political process. As I’ve often warned, democracy dies from indifference and neglect.
This report today is enough to make you weep for America’s future. How can Americans be so ignorant in the so-called “information age” when they are all connected to multiple media platforms all the time? Steve Benen writes, What people don’t know can hurt them:
For those who remain engaged in public affairs, the basics on contemporary politics are usually too obvious to even mention. We know who President Obama is and what party he belongs to; we know who Speaker of the House John Boehner is and his party affiliation; etc.
But like it or not, we’re in the minority. Most Americans don’t keep up with current events enough to know which party, for example, is in the majority in the House and the Senate.
It’s easy to lament the scope of our uninformed electorate, but in the short term, it’s also worth appreciating the practical consequence. As Greg Sargent noted yesterday, there’s new focus-group research that shows many Democratic voters are likely to skip the 2014 midterms in large part because they have no idea what’s at risk.
What if a key part of the problem is that many of these voters simply don’t know that Democratic control of the Senate is at stake in this fall’s elections?
That’s one of the conclusions veteran Dem pollster Celinda Lake reached after conducting new focus groups and polling for the liberal group MoveOn. Lake conducted two focus groups of people from Detroit and its suburbs. One was made up of single white women under 55 and married white women under 35 (millenials). The second was all African American women. These are the same voters who are expected to drop off in many red state Senate contests, too.
Lake added that the drop-off voters “had no idea that control of the Senate was even up for grabs and were even very confused about who controlled it. These voters are very representative of drop-off voters in a lot of states.”
Told that their state’s election may very well dictate control of the Senate in 2015 and 2016, these voters’ motivation went up. Reminded of specific issues at stake in the event of a Republican takeover, and their interest, not surprisingly, grew further.
The point isn’t lost on Democratic officials, who’ve seen the recent polls showing Dems faring well among registered voters, but losing among likely voters. Greg noted the DSCC’s Bannock Street Project which is “investing $60 million in organizing that is premised on contacting voters again, and again, and again,” as well as “unprecedented levels of organizing to states that aren’t contested in presidential years, such as Arkansas.”
Ed Kilgore added that it’s not a simple message, “at least for low-information voters who cannot be expected to be focused on issues of Senate control and where it’s determined, much less immediately grasp what a GOP Senate could mean next year and down the road. So it requires multiple mutually reinforcing and highly targeted messages, and a lot of repetition. And that means money and scale.”