Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tell us how you REALLY feel, Bill...

"The Democratic Party can burn in hell for all I care. I think the Democratic Party is the enemy of democracy in America, and that no good can come realistically from within the Democratic Party." - Bill Lueders, Isthmus News Editor (Isthmus is a respected Madison weekly paper) Quote from the Capital Times, 10/23/06.

Judging by his comments you might think Bill Lueders is a Limbaugh lovin' Bush backin' rabid right-wing loony. But you'd be wrong. Quite the opposite.

Sadly, I think Bill is going to be waiting a mighty long time for the great third party messiah to arise and carry him off to the ideological promised land. But at least his faith in political miracles gives him a convenient excuse not to try to reform the Democratic party, and to disparage those who do.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Turnout vs. Age: Who's gonna vote on November 7th?

I recently needed to know US voter turnout rates verses age for an analysis I did of Governor Doyle's popularity. A quick web search turned up answers that were all over the map, with few people citing their sources or giving historical information. So I decided to do the research myself and make it available to my many loyal readers. I'm also going to post it on Daily Kos, just to get a little more exposure...

Follow me down for some useful and interesting information on trends in US voter turnout verses age over the last thirty years.

(Click on chart for larger version)

The chart above uses information from the US Census Bureau as published in its Statistical Abstracts for 1988, 1992, and 2006. It covers only presidential years, although I may also do midterms in the future. It would be interesting to see if midterms follow the same age patterns as presidential years.

A couple of things are obvious from the data. The older you are the more likely you are to vote, and this is a very strong effect. The 65+ crowd is 1.6 times more likely to vote than those 24 or under. And while overall voter turnout started trending upward in 2000, young voters have increased their turnout more than any other group, by nearly 50% in the 18-20 year old group.

The table below combines the voting rates above with population data also from the 2006 Statistical Abstract to calculate what percentage of 2004 voters were represented by each age group. As you can see, older groups are the dominant voters in the US, with a solid majority of votes coming from those 45 and over, and about 3/4 of the total votes from people over 35.

(Click on table for larger version)

Caveats: While the Statical Abstracts are great information sources, you have to keep in mind that they are the result of surveys, and have the same flaws as all surveys. For example, the 2006 Statistical Abstract reports a 4% larger voter turnout in 2004 than there actually was. Also, I ran into obvious typographical errors in the Statistical Abstracts when I was doing my research, so it's wise to cross check data whenever possible.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What's the Purpose of the Democratic Party?

This isn't a rhetorical question. There are many differing viewpoints, and the answer has some pretty profound implications. I've come to believe that the lack of consensus on the purpose of the Democratic Party is one of the largest barriers that prevents us from having a unified and successful long-term approach to politics. Follow along while explore I this issue and (hopefully) present an answer you'll find intriguing.

I'm a vice-chair in my county Democratic Party here in Wisconsin. We've been trying to update our mission statement, and it's been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. The problem is that nobody agrees on what our purpose is. The "traditionalists" are focussed on elections, and argue that our job is solely to elect more Democrats. The "progressive newbies" (I tend towards this category) want us to focus more on values and issues as a way to build the party. The "sages" believe that both elections and issues are important, and want some sort of middle ground, but don't seem to be able to define what it should be.

(If any of my friends on the board are reading this, I know I'm simplifying a complex discussion. Please forgive me)

We don't agree on our purpose, so we can't agree on our priorities. Sound familiar? This debate plays out in one form or another in almost every discussion about the Democratic Party. We pretty much all want the same basic things, but our differing backgrounds and expectations keep us from reaching the common ground we need to succeed.

Just in case you don't realize this, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is different from most state parties in that it's a membership organization. Although membership is open to anyone, you have to pay yearly dues to be a Party member. But once you've joined you get to vote directly for your county Party leaders, and you can become a delegate to the state convention to vote for state Party leaders.

I've thought about this problem from many different angles, and for me it always comes back to the reasons that most people join the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in the first place. It usually isn't to elect Democratic candidates. If that's their priority they just get involved with individual campaigns. And it usually isn't issues, because there are issue groups that are far more active and involved in any given issue than the Party could ever be.

It almost always comes down to the big picture. The common values that we share as Democrats. And the belief that through joining the Party, they can advance those values. So with that in mind here's my definition of the purpose of the Democratic Party:

The purpose of the Democratic party is to turn the views and values of its members into public policy.

This simple definition encompasses both elections and issues without elevating one above the other. It's provides a framework to weigh all Party activities against our long-term goals as expressed by our members in our platform and resolutions. And it provides the flexibility to evolve and change tactics as necessary to reach those goals.

So chew on that, and let me know what you think...