Poorer people are now voting in droves. And they’re mad as hell.
By Dick Morris
America’s evolution from a Republic to a democracy has accelerated dramatically in this election year as political participation has soared and voter interest multiplied. In the coming general election, indications are that turnout will smash all recent records, likely topping 140 million—a 20 million increase over 2004 and a 40 million improvement over 2000.
But in between actual voting periods, America has morphed into one continuous town meeting, where people express their opinions through polling and monitor the presidential race on YouTube, through Internet news sites, and on cable television. Obama’s pastor makes outrageous remarks and he instantly has over 70 percent national name recognition (almost all negative). Hillary lies about her participation in the Bosnia conflict and immediately the whole nation knows all the details.
The opinion leaders have no chance to lead and have to scramble to stay relevant with their commentary. Who cares that the baseball season has opened? It’s politics that is on everybody’s lips.
In this new environment, no campaign can possibly track, much less control, the developments that affect it. The candidates and their organizations become, in effect, franchises to be used by individual voters in their dinner and breakfast conversations and at the proverbial office water cooler.
The level of popular expertise is astonishing. Information once limited to a few insiders is now routinely bandied about by everyone. The cable repairman knows the key Senate races to watch and the taxi driver has an opinion on who will win the next primary. The endorsements of individual delegates, once grist for insider gossip, become instant national news. There are no more barriers to entry. Now, everyone plays the game.
To practice politics in this new environment is a particularly perilous endeavor. Where once campaign managers could pride themselves on how well they controlled events, they now have to fasten themselves down to avoid being swept overboard as the whitewater current of public opinion seizes their campaign craft and hurtles it down the river at its own pace in the direction it chooses.
Most likely this massive re-enfranchisement of voters will produce a sustained leftward drift in our politics. When only 40 percent of the voters participated in elections, the top 10 percent provided you with half the votes you need to win. But with turnout likely to top 60 percent and all demographic groups participating lustily in the process, poorer people, unmarried women and people of color will play an ever-larger part in the election and in the ideological environment.
The consequence of wealthy people failing to irrigate their income down to larger groups of people is the liberal tilt of our politics. In the period since 2003, real, inflation-adjusted per capita income for the richest fifth of our population has risen by 42 percent. For the middle fifth, it rose by 4 percent. And for the bottom fifth, it rose by less than 1 percent. Because of this massively unequal income distribution, voter resentments are fueling their balloting, leaving the elites hopelessly outvoted and with less and less influence over the process.
After election day, when the new Congress and president settle down to the actual process of governing, the liberal drift will be ever more apparent and the inability of the wealthy special interests to control or counter it will be increasingly obvious.
With Democrats likely to win by big margins in the House and Senate and to win the presidency, we will probably see a period of liberal legislation in areas like health care, energy, environment, climate change and government regulation of finance. The same level of involvement and activity which characterizes the election of 2008 will probably continue through the early months of the new administration, providing massive support for its program, driving it through a strongly Democratic Congress.
Players on the left are fully mobilized, in touch with one another, and intently focused on first the electoral and then the legislative process. And the results are going to be something to watch.
Dick Morris is an author and political commentator. To get his columns for free by e-mail several times each week, sign up at DickMorris.com.