November 7, 2002
The truth is that neither major political party makes much effort to mobilize the millions of Americans of modest means and education who stand outside the electorate. Neither major party supports electoral reforms such as the elimination of voter registration requirements or a shift to weekend voting. Both practices are standard in Western Europe, and the European experience suggests that these two changes alone would appreciably boost turnout.[12:35 PM]
One of the undemocratic unmentionables of American politics is that most elected politicians are not eager to see an expansion of the electorate. Boosting the number of voters is a risky strategy seldom undertaken lightly. Lord Derby famously called the increase of Britain’s electorate under the Reform Bill of 1867 a “leap into the dark.”
Today, both political parties seem more afraid of the dark than ever. Republicans fear that enlarging the electorate will lead to an influx of poor and minority voters who are less likely to favor the GOP. The Democrats, meanwhile, fear that millions of new voters might be less than friendly to some of the party’s traditional allies, such as anti-smoking activists and environmentalists. It’s not that poor and working-class people favor damaged lungs or dirty air, but that they might have political priorities inconsistent with the “post-materialist” values of some liberal interest groups. They lack the material resources needed to feel post-materialistic. This demobilization of the American left may help to explain the rightward drift of American politics since the 1970s.