All You Need to Know #3
I can summarise this week pretty quickly. Basically all the trends I talked about the previous two weeks have only gotten worse for Trump. Nationally, the majority of Americans think he’s doing poorly with race relations and coronavirus, and he’s trailing Biden in the race for the White House. But national polling doesn’t matter as much as swing states, so how’s he doing there? Poorly. Like before.
So that’s the summary. But I’d like to talk about two other details because I think it helps to explain the context of the moment we’re living through right now.
First let’s talk about turnout numbers. Insight number one is that extremists always vote. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing, or there’s a hurricane… they’re showing up. It’s like people obsessed with a band or a genre of music. Think about a K-Pop fan camping out for days in order to get tickets to an upcoming concert. They’re going to be first in line, whereas a person who’s only a casual fan won’t put in the same amount of effort. And we see the same thing with voting.
When fewer people vote, the people who do show up tend to be more extreme. And this skews the election away from what mainstream people believe and instead rewards what the extremists want. For example, if you only interview 10 K-Pop fans about the best songs of all time, you’ll end up with a lot of K-Pop that most people haven’t heard of. But if you interview everyone in the country, you’ll end up with something more broadly understood to be accurate. For example, you’d get more Beatles, Elton John, Taylor Swift, and so forth. And that’s how democracy works best, by sampling the widest possible cross-section of the population and making laws based on those people’s wishes. This is why America talks about “by the people, for the people.” And why no Democracy can work with low voter turnout.
We see the benefits of this every time a new group of people can vote. For example, when women couldn’t vote, the laws were a lot more tilted towards men. No surprise there! But as soon as women were given the right to vote, laws were able to change to more accurately reflect the population. We saw the same thing in the gay community as they organised, got more power, and were able to overturn homophobic laws. Which brings me to the second thing I want to talk about, and it ties in with the first. The systematic suppression of Black voters.
This would take multiple books to get right, but here’s a very quick summary. If Black people could have voted to outlaw slavery, they would have. So whites fought tooth and nail to make sure they couldn’t exercise that right, and classify them instead as property. And that’s literally what the American Civil War was about.
So eventually that issue was resolved when the country finally decided that Black people were people too, and therefore deserved the right to vote. So what did America do? Did they rush to educate these newly free men and women about their rights, and encourage them to vote in order to create “a more perfect union?” Of course not!
The end of slavery marked a long campaign to make sure newly free black people couldn’t vote. These are often referred to as Jim Crow laws. Here were some ways black people were kept from voting after the civil war:
- Literacy tests said that if you couldn’t read well enough, you weren’t allowed to vote. Back then, a lot blacks and whites were illiterate, but this rule was aimed squarely at black people. And it was illegal.
- Property tests claimed that if you didn’t own a home, you couldn’t vote. Also illegal.
- Poll taxes made people pay in order to vote. The rates were kept high, which meant poor people had no chance. And Black people were disproportionately affected by this, because they’ve always made far less. Super illegal.
- Voting roll purges were used to simply delete people off the list of registered voters. Mega illegal.
- And of course organisations like the Ku Klux Klan were all about intimidating Black people from exercising their basic rights through terrorism, violence, and murder.
I wish I could say these tactics died out a long time ago, but many still exist in one form or another. There are huge voter suppression efforts currently at play in America, and the latest is trying to convince people that mail-in voting is somehow ripe for fraud. Even though all our research shows that it’s not. It’s just that they don’t want people voting, because it makes it harder for them to push an extreme agenda.
So that’s the bad news, but this series is supposed to be about good news. So here it is: voting turnout has been way, way up ever since Trump took office. America isn’t watching his racist words and actions and shrugging it off. They’re organising. They’re planning. They’re fighting in the courts. And they’re winning.
And just today, they released some analysis that shows who is using mail-in voting. Democrats are exercising their mail-in voting rights in huge numbers, as you’d expect during a pandemic where you are not supposed to go outside. But Republicans? They’re not even showing up. Trump, by saying mail-in voting is bad, is accidentally suppressing his own voters. That is hilarious. And a very, very good sign.
See you next week!