Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On common concerns

Most of the discussion of Samara's report on political disengagement has focused on the responses of non-voters. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that the disengaged and the currently-engaged seem to have virtually identical critiques of how our political system fails to function:
"Almost without fail, the disengaged we spoke to described themselves as political outsiders," the study says. "On the basis of their experiences, they described government, bureaucrats, politicians and the media as working for someone else and, therefore, irrelevant to their needs."

Many of the disengaged didn't always feel powerless, the study says. But if they had a concern that needed to be resolved - everything from a speed bump on their street to day care for their children - "they found that no one was responsive."
Like non-voters, engaged citizens had little positive to say about politics. "Like the disengaged, they used words such as 'untrustworthy,' 'corruption,' and 'mismanagement' to characterize the political system," the study says. "But the engaged groups seemed to remain hopeful that things could be better."

While frustrated at times by the political system's response, members of the engaged group "kept picking up the phone, knocking on doors and sending emails until they saw results."
Of course, there figures to be far more work done in convincing voters who have decided the political process is futile. But Samara's conversations suggest that there's a massive potential constituency for anybody who can successfully convince doubtful voters that it's possible for politics to result in real positive results for ordinary people (as a matter of substance rather than sloganeering). And that in turn should offer hope for the engaged group that its work can lead to significant results if it helps to make that case.


  1. Purple Library Guy2:06 p.m.

    I'm torn.  On one hand, I myself keep voting.  But on the other, a nonvoter might argue that this study also shows the flip side of your argument:  That most of those still voting are just a couple of failures or betrayals away from also giving up, and that if everyone quit it might bring us closer to seriously changing the system.

  2. Alison Loat8:28 a.m.

    Hi Purple Library,

    That's a good point.  We also talked to one group that described themselves as engaged in politics to compare, and they too expressed a lot of frustration, but still felt that they had an ability to influence an outcome.  

    However, I still remind motivated by the quote "decisions are made by people who show up"!