The Out of Touch Activists

The New York Times pretty much summed up my feelings about politics in an article out today- the activists are out of touch. They are not representative of the general public, voters in either party, or any form of a majority. It should be no wonder that the public is so turned off by politics, when politics are being driven by people outside of the mainstream.

The case they lay out is pretty clear- a large majority of Democrats are not like the activists online. Most Democrats watch less cable news, don’t share political articles on social media, are less college educated, less white, and far more moderate than the activists driving the party debate. It’s why more Democrats want the party to be more moderate, rather than moving left. It’s why most Democrats, especially African-American Democrats, didn’t want the Governor of Virginia to resign over his racist med school yearbook photo, even as almost every national Democrat called on him to do so. It’s why most Democrats think “PC Culture” has gone too far, even as the activists don’t agree. There is a clear disconnect.

People in politics think everything we do is pretty important- voters don’t. They don’t pick their party or it’s candidates on a checklist of issues, but often on cultural values and a sense of who will basically fight for them. In short, it’s not all that ideological for most voters, but rather perceived self-interest. It’s why issues like health care really drive voters passions, but many social issues don’t. It’s why attacking new programs for the subsequent tax increases usually works.

So why is our political system driven by a minority of voters? The answer lies in one of the illustrations in the article, asking if you have donated to a campaign in the last year- and 45% of activists said yes, far ahead of the rest of voters. It’s money. Campaigns are very expensive, and giving is restricted by campaign finance laws. The only way to get the money to get your message out is to appeal to the hyper motivated activists, and the interest groups they are members of, if you want the outside money to come in that is necessary in major campaigns.

I wrote last week on how the Democrats are losing the online game, saying they treat it like an ATM. The truth is, all of politics is being treated like an ATM. The GOP treats public policy as an ATM to reward their big donors, Democrats treat their activists like the ATM. Neither is all that representative of America as a whole, and America doesn’t love either- hence the big swings in control of Congress in each midterm. As long as campaign finances control our politics though, get used to it.

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