WHY POLITICIANS MUST CAMPAIGN TO ALL THE VOTERS

door knocking 2010

^ door knocking in 2010 : the right thing to do, but the list in his hands does not look like an official, all-voter list.

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It is, or should be, an axiom of the art of politics that every registered voter is entitled to have his or her vote personally asked for.

Famously, the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, said that ‘all politics is local” and that you have to ask people for their vote if you expect them to give it to you. He was right then — and still is right. Unhappily, most voters never do get asked for their vote, and they know it and feel disrespected thereby. Can you blame them ?

We in the political community — and I count myself in it — must accept much of the blame for this situation. All of us have contributed to it; every campaign. (NOTE : Some have suggested that by this column, I am criticizing the campaign I now consult for. Not so. I am not directing this column at ANY one campaign but at ALL local campaigns.) If we decry that voters feel left out, that they distrust us and feel that “we’re all on the take, and that in consequence they vote for angry and negative voices, perhaps it is WE who are doing it wrong ? Let me explain :

It’s become standard for campaigns now to use “likely voter” lists — called “voter-file” and purchased from several data-mining companies — that allow candidates to give attention to those who vote in most elections. Since campaign time is limited, and since most local campaigns can’t find enough volunteer door-knockers to do a precinct properly, these “likely voter” lists become THE voter list, replacing the list of ALL voters that one gets from City or Town Hall; those who are on the “likely” list get campaigned to A LOT, and those who are not on it get minimum attention, if any.

Because only about 37.5 percent of the voters actually vote in Boston elections — and often less than that — the substitution of “likely voter” information for an all-voter list means that a majority of voters are barely campaigned to.

This cannot stand. But it does stand. Which is why so many voters feel left out and why, when they have the chance, as Mr. Trump gave them, they sometimes vote for angry, negative voices. Can you fault them ?

Do we believe in democracy, or don’t we ? Democracy grants to every eligible adult the right to vote. It is bad enough that many do not register — I will discuss this later — but to ignore those who do register betrays democracy. If only 37.5 of registered voters get campaigned to, we undermine our democracy. Because this artificial restriction of the voters list now happens in almost every campaign, it has become a system in itself, of vote suppression. We who live by this system have scant right to decry the vote suppression efforts going on in some states, when we ourselves have solidified our own method of vote limitation.

I do not criticize campaigns for ascertaining the leanings of a voter and thereafter avoiding those who support one’s opponent. That makes sense : you mobilize your supporters and hope that your opponents forget to vote. But the process of ascertaining must include an initial door knock that offers the voter — every voter — a choice. If a voter chooses against you, fine, as long as you gave him or her that choice.

Nor do I decry the information offered in “voter-file” lists. It is useful to know that a voter is “likely.” We in the campaign community have always wanted to know this. I recall going to Boston’s election department with my four pens — red, yellow, green, and blue: one color for each of the four elections I wanted to know about — and spending countless hours doing a “check list” by hand. But the campaigns I worked this work for used “likely voter” information the opposite of what is done today. For us, likely voters required less campaigning, because we felt pretty sure that they would vote. Our time and effort was directed to0 those who were less likely.

The “likely” would get a mailing from us, or two. The less likely would get door knocked and telephoned.

But that was when fifty to seventy percent of Boston voters voted in most elections. Because a majority voted, it was crucial to campaign to a majority, even to all. I do not know for sure why that has changed, but I do know what keeps a 37.5 percent turnout — and less — in place: we do.

(NOTE : those who swear by “likely voter” lists misjudge the information in it. Please remember that campaigns have followings, and those followings vote, including many who were not classed as “likely” voters. Thereafter, those voters, followers of one candidate, become “likely” although they may become “likely” by being intensely campaigned to. And could not the same be said of almost any voter ? A campaign that does not build its own following of voters likely or otherwise is a campaign with one leg missing. )

SO: to sum up : if we are to restore the voters’ confidence in politics, and reassure them that we do, in fact, listen, we who do campaigns must campaign to ALL the voters on the City voter list. It is our duty. If we do not do this, we betray the voters — and thus get from them, perhaps more than just this once with Mr. Trump, an angry negativity that we fully deserve.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere