Saturday, December 11, 2010

Which Way Are the Political Winds Blowing as We Enter Election 2010?

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

I walked outside today with the distinct feeling that madness has descended upon us. As I crossed the street the wind nearly pulled the legs out from under me. Even the trees were shown no mercy. They now stand askew, a monument to nature's forces.
Next week voters across the nation will go to the polls. We will elect, among others, Governors, Senators, and members of Congress. But we can't predict the outcome of many races. Why?
We simply don't know which ways the political winds are blowing. (Too silly? Stay with me here.)
Voters may be waiting to be knocked off their feet, and they just haven't. Too often we feel we are voting for the lesser of two evils. Meg Whitman explicitly acknowledges as much in her latest campaign commercial, as she tries to tell voters why this is not so. In an era of candidates who must explain that they are not witches, I worry that it is too easy to disengage from the process.
Too many voters have either tuned out or turned off. They either don't like the candidates and/or don't feel part of the political process. Voter apathy is an enormous problem in a representative democracy. By definition our government is premised on the belief that our elected officials represent us, not just a small sliver of us.
There are no easy solutions to the problem of voter apathy. Assuming we make barriers to voting reasonably low, there is just no simple way to get much of the public jazzed about electing their State Senator. I fear that too many people know the answer to "Who won American Idol?" as opposed to "Who won your State Senate race?"
Of those taking part in the process, many remain undecided. They may, like the trees (I've almost made my point, hang tough), simply lean one way, but not markedly so. In California one in five voters is not registered as a member of either major party, instead, they are listed as Decline to State (DTS).
I count myself among their ranks. First, I work for a non-partisan organization. Second, I teach and I want my students to feel comfortable sharing their political views without knowing whether or not they comport with mine. Third, I simply don't feel fully at home in either party.
DTS voters, if they make it to the polls, can sway many elections. But we don't know exactly who they are. They are the ultimate X factor. Are they in the middle of the two parties -- too socially liberal for the Republican Party but too fiscally conservative for the Democratic Party? Or are they, on the other hand, to the right or left of the main street parties -- do they feel Republicans are too moderate or Democrats are not liberal enough?

I have no quick answers or solutions. After my wind swept morning I'm still walking and talking and plan on walking my way right into the voting booth. I may not be thrilled with some of the choices, but I'm sure going to weigh in on them. Care to join me?

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