I went and did early voting on Saturday. As I was waiting around for Question Cathy to finish, an old woman came in to vote. Her presence brought the total number of voters in the giant empty strip mall retail space to three, including me and QC. The woman was very obviously unclear about what she was doing. First she was informed that there were multiple ballots (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc). Then she was informed that, as a registered Democrat, she was legally obligated in this state to take the Democratic ballot or the odd sock drawer "other" ballot.

"Why am I registered as a Democrat?" Well ma'am, you have been registered as a Democrat since 1972.

"Is Trump on the ballot?" No ma'am, Trump is running in the Republican primary.

"What am I voting for if Trump isn't on the ballot?" This is the primary election, ma'am. There is a list of candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump, if Trump is the winner of the Republican nomination (the volunteer poll judge was, after all, extremely By the Book)

"I thought they were all running against Trump." Ma'am they are all competing to be the Democrat who opposes the Republican nominee in the general election this November.

"I thought that's what I was voting in now." No ma'am, you cannot vote in the November election in February. This is the primary election. First there is the primary and then later in the year the general election. Your voting history shows that you have voted in the primary election many times before.

"I thought I was voting for president. I want to vote for president." Ma'am….

On it went like this until we left. For all I know she is still standing there, with three extraordinarily patient volunteer election judges explaining it.

Later in the week QC and I socialized with two people I like immensely, probably the best people we've met in the short time we have lived here.
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They are both extremely intelligent. As always when I socialize, eventually someone brings up the election. I try to keep politics to an absolute minimum in social settings. After maybe three minutes we managed to move on to something else. My impression, from the brief discussion, was that the three other people at the table broadly knew who most of the Democratic candidates for president are. Someone asked who won Iowa and New Hampshire, not because the media coverage or the Iowa Democratic Party caucus confused them, but because Iowa and New Hampshire are not really a thing to 99% of us.

Combined these were useful reminders, and reminders I will attempt to remember, that the subset of Americans paying really close attention to the day-to-day of politics is extremely small.

You might not previously have considered yourself some kind of well-informed political elite by being able to explain, even in general terms, what M4A is and where some of the major candidates stand on health care, but congratulations; you are. And despite the enormous amount of time, money, and energy that will be spent on this election cycle, many people (even some people who will take the time to participate) have no real idea what is going on. I'm not picking on the old lady, who for all I know might have been in some kind of state of cognitive decline that left her confused on Saturday morning.
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All I am saying is that it would not be unusual at all for someone to have no clear conception of what a primary is – even if he or she was about to vote in it.

It's sobering but important to remember how little most of what is happening registers.

21 thoughts on “STATE OF BLISS”

  • Teaching (first-year) undergraduates is also a good reminder of this. Not even just with general knowledge/awareness of the 2020 election but with current events more generally. E.g., I brought up Megxit in class back in January when they were still an NPR headline and none of my students seemed to know why they were leaving the UK.

  • I don't get to vote in my state's primary–I accept that as the price of being left off of a lot of mailing lists, phone calls and push polling.

    I talk to people, frequently who are single issue voters.

    In the recent conversations I've had, they are pretty much polarized to, "Caring if others are hurt"–"WANTING the 'OTHER' to BE hurt".

    That's pretty much it. I waste no time with either group. I am confident that both of them will follow their illogical hearts and vote without considering anything other than their single issue.

    The ones I try to talk to are those who actually want to do the right thing or don't want to vote, 'cuz, "It just doesn't matter".

    I expect that Trumpligulamygdala will get roughly the same turnout as last time–that is regrettable.

    The difference will be if, of the 40 million eligible voters who did not participate in the last election decide to take an interest in whether this nation survives as a federal democratic republic or some form of authoritarian oligarchy–think Putin's Russia.

  • Nothing better than coming to the realization that the fate of the world depends on people who cannot be bothered to pay even minimal attention to what's happening around them, and how the mechanisms that dictate the courses of their lives actually work. Good times.

  • This ranks up there with the Iowa caucus voter who AFTER voting for thuglican lite buttigieg was shocked to find out he was Gay and wondered why it had not been mentioned before.
    She wanted to change her vote but since it had already been dropped in box, registered digitally, however Iowa did it (besides badly) without personal ID attached to vote was informed she could not.

  • The longtime voter actually walking through the door on primary day is, sadly enough, a good bit better than “minimally attentive” by modern American standards, at least in terms of adults of voting age. Still, voter competency tests and other requirements besides age have been used before, if not used correctly. Maybe the concept works, anyway.

  • With your being in North Carolina, the story about the old lady reminded me of Lauch Faircloth. I imagine there are more than a few NC Republicans would like to forget they were once registered (even ardent) Democrats.

  • @ democommie

    Yeah, I had to block Act Blue because they kept sending me spam and all kinds of click-bait outrage stuff, and of course the never- ending requests for more money. Reminded me of when I used to be part of a church.

    Ed, I am positively giddy to be able to vote early this week, simply because then I can rightfully stop giving a damn until the general. I get that the early primaries allow a front-runner narrative, but I fail to see the benefit of starting the debates in what feels like 2 years ago.

  • It is rather startling how little attention many people pay to the things that can drastically affect their lives – although on the bright side, that does explain a great deal, doesn't it?

    I suppose all we can do is the best we can under the circumstances and hope things basically work out.

  • Wasn't it Churchill who said that the best argument against democracy was a five minute conversation with the average voter? I have a bunch of reforms that I would like to see, but I don't have a cure for that.

  • @Noskilz:

    “It is rather startling how little attention many people pay to the things that can drastically affect their lives”

    In a sense, that’s not really applicable. Yes, who is elected president in November might drastically affect my life. Yet I have no practical agency in that matter. I can vote; but unlike buying a car or renting an apartment, I don’t get the president I choose, I get the president everyone chooses, and I’m such a small part of everyone that the statistical chances of my choice making any difference are vanishingly small. (Certainly smaller than the likely error in counting the votes!)

    So whether I know exactly how each candidate’s election would affect my life (a difficult thing to predict no matter how much one learns) or know nothing at all, the practical result is unchanged. Even the statistically challenged surely recognize intuitively that they are more likely to be hit by a bus on the way to the polling place than they are to affect the outcome of any but the smallest, most local elections.

    If I have limited time and energy, there are any number of things I could learn that would be more useful than learning about politics, in the sense that I would gain knowledge I could use to make decisions that would be far more likely to have an actual effect on my life. The only reasons anyone learns about politics are that they like it, or they want the social rewards of being able to discuss it with others. People are not being foolish when they spend little energy understanding politics; they’re being efficient.

    People don’t vote because they expect doing so to affect their lives. They might vote out of a sense of moral obligation; they might vote because they want to participate in something in which they believe; they might vote to express their disgust with an opposing candidate.

    So it’s hardly surprising that how people feel about the candidates is what matters.

  • " Yet I have no practical agency in that matter."

    Apparently you have found a good rationalization for letting the GOP fuck you up the ass.

    Not voting, is a vote for them.

  • @democommie: “Apparently you have found a good rationalization for letting the GOP fuck you up the ass.”

    Not really… unless, I suppose, you believe that democracy is necessarily founded on magical thinking, and that it constitutes rationalization to point out that expecting one’s investment in understanding political issues and voting accordingly to pay off in bettering your own circumstances is magical thinking.

    I don’t say this to discourage anyone from voting. No one with a whit of sense is studying the candidates and then voting because he or she thinks that’s a good use of time and effort to improve their own lot in life anyway, so I don’t see how pointing this out changes anything. What I’m saying is that since this is so, people are learning what they learn (if anything) about politics, choosing to vote and choosing for whom to vote for reasons other than rational self-interest.

    If we try to understand voting patterns or run campaigns based on the notion that rational self-interest (coupled with an improbably vast overestimation of the significance of their own actions) is the reason people learn about politics and vote, we will be very confused by what actually happens.

  • Word. I am kinda guilty this morning that I bailed on watching the debate last night in favor of something y'know, entertaining. WHAT ABOUT DOING YR CIVIC DUTY DAMMIT?? Fortunately I early voted (for my state's Super Tuesday primary) last week so I don't feel TOO bad. Though a lot of people on twitter seemed to enjoy seeing Bloomberg getting his ass kicked, as you point out again and again Ed, political twitter or even debates on cable tv have very small audiences. Bloomberg still has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on tv ads and political endorsements. We can't count him out yet.

  • Bloomberg needs to go negative with his saturation ads now, at Bernie's expense. Time to follow up on the three houses, the corrupt wife, and most of all demanding Bernie explain exactly why it is a "cheap shot" (today, as opposed to thirty years ago) to call him a Communist.

  • @ Coises:

    I get what you're saying. Not voting, which is something a lot of eligible voters did last time we were doing this is not an option unless you like what's going on in the U.S.

    I haven't had a candidate who thrills me in DECADES. I still vote, I always choose what is going to the lesser of two evils. Since, at least, 1972, in the general election that has always been a democrat because they have fucked me LESS than the GOP.

    Vote for whoever you want in the primaries. Vote for whoever gets the democratic nomination for PotUS.

    Not elegant, somewhat unpriniciples. I don't care. Before we can fix the ship of state, we need to steer it away from the falls.

  • The only upside of having to wait till April 28th for my primary is that there'll Hopefully be less choices by then…

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