Thursday, October 26, 2006

Engaging those 20 Something in Advocacy

One of the chapters of the book I'm writing (E-scapism: We're Not Tuning Out, We're Plugging in) focuses on the relationship between e-scapism and citizen advocacy. And wouldn't you know it, but USA Today did an article on how the 20-somethings (variously known as Generation Y, the Echo Boomers and the Millenials) have been powered by the Internet to become involved in the world around them. The catch is that they're involved in non-traditional ways. Rather than doing boring things like, oh, voting, they might instead start an online petition or join an virtual community of concerned citizens.

Unfortunately, because our current measures of "political involvement" focus on very traditional ideas (being an active member of a political party, signing a paper petition, joining a boycott, etc.), we are inclined to think that the Millenials are disengaged. In fact, they aren't necessarily "disengaged." They're just "differently engaged." Where they are turned off by the negativity of traditional politics, they might be turned on by a social consciousness that is more broadly focused on helping the poor or bettering the environment.

So next time you think to yourself -- gee, those young people just don't care -- be careful. They may care more than you think. They're just expressing it in a new way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Making politics fun again!

Over the last several decades, Americans have turned out for elections at a rate significantly less than European countries – or even our own past. In fact, in the 1800’s and 1900’s, turn out rates were around 65 to 80%. Today, we’re lucky fi we hit 40%.

Why is that? Well, part of it is, of course, ongoing dissatisfaction and disillusionment with politics. Negative campaigning turns some people off. Others think that politicians don’t really listen to citizens anyway, and have translated that into an idea that voting doesn’t matter (never mind that they certainly won’t listen to you if you’re not speaking -- but I digress). In still other cases, registration requirements, which were designed to limit some of the, umm, interesting practices of “voting early and voting often” or turning in ballots for those that were no longer among the living, have erected barriers to participation.

But what does it really boil down to? Voting just doesn’t feel fun anymore. Whereas 100 years ago voting on election day was a national pastime, today it feels like a chore. You have to find time to go to your local polling place, face quizzes from the workers as to your identity (are you sure you’re Stephanie Vance? What’s you address?), and then fill out the ballot in a very specific manner or face the humiliation of asking for a new ballot (yes, I’ve done that). No one feels inspired to go to the polling booth and then hit the local bar with friends to speculate, and argue, about the outcomes of the elections.

Perhaps our attention has been distracted by other forms of amusement (television, video games, etc.), and we no longer need to spectacle of politics to keep us entertained. But I wonder how a society that LOVES the World Wrestling Federation and Nascar can possibly find politics boring. Have you seen some of the fights out there lately? It’s better than a night of bare knuckle boxing.

This election day, think about what you can do to really enjoy the spectacle. Invite both donkey and elephant friends over for a party. Set up a system of tracking totals for both the House and the Senate. Award prizes for people who are closest in terms of guessing the final numbers.

Oh yeah, and vote!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Perhaps this is a Dog Bites Man kind of story...

... but, it appears that campaign ads are getting nastier and nastier. A recent article in CQ indicates that a number of factors have converged in 2006 to make this the most negative campaign ever. First of all, there's the fight between Republicans and Democrats for control of the House and Senate. Second, there's all the fodder that both parties have thrown toward the campaigns (either willingly or unwillingly) in terms of scandals and ethics problems. Finally, of course, there's the ongoing disagreement over the war and whether as a country we're doing OK or whether we're on the verge of a horrific terrorist attack or economic collapse. For the party in power, that's a fine line to walk. For the party out of power, it's been difficult to deliver a cohesive message on what their candidates would do differently.

Unfortunately, negativity seems to work, especially when campaigns are sophisticated enough to "narrow-cast" their messages in such a way as to reach segments of the population with specific negative messages that focus on what those individuals care most about. Campaigns have the ability to run ads that, for example, tell people who have self-identified as "concerned about security" how the "other guy" will leave them open to terrorist threats and attacks. That "gets them where they live" as it were, and is tremendously effective.

Check out the article online here:

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Politics of Marriage

Did anyone else see the really interesting USA Today article a few weeks ago on the "marriage divide" in politics? Turns out that the 25 districts with the highest percentage of married people are ALL Republican held and that the 25 districts with the lowest percentage of married people are ALL held by Democrats. Only ONE of the top 50 districts with the highest rates of married couples (and that's, ummm, traditionally married couples), is represented by a Democrat. That's pretty astounding and clearly indicates a "marriage divide."

Further, the Democratic-controlled seats also tend to have fewer traditional two parent households than the Republican-controlled seats, which explains why the parties talk about children's issues differently. Chris Cannon from, not surprisingly, Utah, has the most number of children in his district. The vast majority of them (84%) are in two parent households. In another district with a high number of children, Jose Serrano's in New York City, only 29% of the kids live in two parent households. This fact offers startling evidence as to why the two members talk about "family issues" in completely different ways.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Coming soon to a townhall near you

Congress is out of Washington, DC (I can tell, because there are more parking spaces), and its members are hitting the campaign trail hard. Now's the time for concerned citizens to check in with their elected officials to see where they stand on the issues you care about. I remember working on a campaign one election year, making phone calls to voters that had expressed strong views about gun control (they were for it, as was the candidate I was working for). I talked to one very nice lady who told me that she had already sent in her ballot and had voted for the other candidate. I asked her what other issues had changed her mind, since she and the candidate I was working for agreed on gun control. Her response? "Oh, I didn't know that. Is there anyway I can get my ballot back?"

Don't let that happen to you! If you fell strongly about an issue ask your elected officials and their opponents where they stand on that issue. You want to be sure to support the people that reflect your views and values.

You can find out about campaign events by contacting the campaign offices of the candidates. Information is usually available through your State Board of Elections or through a google search. You can also check in with the Democratic National Committee ( or the Republican National Committee ( for more information.