“Targeted demobilization of minority voters”—the most disgraceful practice in American politics today

Perspectives on Politics is a leading journal published by the American Political Science Association. December’s issue includes a sobering article by Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien titled, “Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies.” The abstract tells the basic story:

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in state legislation likely to reduce access for some voters, including photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements, registration restrictions, absentee ballot voting restrictions, and reductions in early voting. Political operatives often ascribe malicious motives when their opponents either endorse or oppose such legislation. In an effort to bring empirical clarity and epistemological standards to what has been a deeply-charged, partisan, and frequently anecdotal debate, we use multiple specialized regression approaches to examine factors associated with both the proposal and adoption of restrictive voter access legislation from 2006–2011. Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs. These findings are consistent with a scenario in which the targeted demobilization of minority voters and African Americans is a central driver of recent legislative developments…. [emphasis added]

Bentele and O’Brien’s statistical analysis of 2006-2011 data makes plain what was already pretty obvious. Republican governors and legislatures have sought to hinder minority turnout for partisan purposes. States were especially likely to pass restrictive voting laws if Republicans were politically dominant, but where the state observed rising minority turnout or where the state was becoming more competitive in the national presidential race. Variables that capture the strategic value to Republicans of minority voter suppression are more powerful predictors of restrictive voting legislation than is actual incidence of voter fraud.

This is the most disgraceful and toxic practice in American political life. It’s out there. It’s blatant. I keep waiting for decent conservatives to speak out against this stuff. Now that would be a Sister Souldjah moment worth watching. So far, no takers.

Memories of these efforts will darken the Republican Party’s reputation for many years. It certainly should.

A new kind of arms race with the NRA

A key challenge for gun policy reflects the asymmetric passions of the two sides. The National Rifle Association and its allies hold unpopular views in the country at-large. Yet they want it more. They are more passionate, more organized, and more focused on promoting their agenda than the majority of Americans who oppose them. Link that with our legislative structures that magnify the influence of rural areas most likely to hold pro-NRA views, and you see where this is going.

Right now, because of Newtown and related atrocities, there is a window of opportunity for people who feel passionately on the other side. Yet we all know that this window of opportunity may quickly close. The public spotlight and the newspaper headlines will soon move to the debt ceiling or other matters. Americans will still be sad and angry about the continuing toll of gun violence. Yet these feelings are unlikely to translate into effective legislative action.

durbin presser

Unless that is, the more liberal side on gun policy finds new innovative strategies.

Over at CNN.com. my University of Chicago colleagues Ethan Bueno de Mesquita and Jens Ludwig offer an intriguing suggestion:

The key for gun control proponents is to figure out how to turn people’s willingness to take a single action in a moment into an effortless and sustainable long-term commitment.

Here’s one way to defeat the NRA: Ask people who are upset about this recent shooting to go online and sign up for automatic, monthly deductions to a fund devoted to breaking the grip of the NRA.

For every dollar the NRA spends in helping a political candidate, this new fund would spend $2 to help the opponent (whether in a primary race or general election). Many politicians are currently afraid that opposing the NRA would lead the organization to stop providing their campaigns with either cash contributions or in-kind support (such as advertisements and other forms of advocacy). Creating a fund that guaranteed a two-to-one match of NRA support — but for the other side, ideally who supports stronger gun control — would weaken the NRA’s political clout.

And how much should gun control proponents ask people to pledge? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA spent about $20 million on political activities in the 2012 election cycle; including a little more than $1 million on direct campaign contributions and around $8.5 million on independent campaigns in support of congressional candidates.

Will this work? I don’t know. There is a static quality to their analysis that bears watching. If liberal groups go head-to-head with the NRA, conservatives are sure to follow. A different kind of arms race may well ensue.

I hope Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, or some similar wealthy gun control advocate takes this seriously. Much conventional political conversation reflects the conventional wisdom of the 1990s: Gun control is simply too toxic. That may be an outdated view…. Continue Reading…