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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

The big divide in US politics.

Despite what the major parties think, it's not between Democrats and Republicans. According to a new book by Canadian pollster Michael Adams, the real political divide is between people who vote and people who don't.

Adams' conclusions are reported in a new book, American Backlash which is reveiewed by Barbara McLintock at The Tyee. His conclusions are based based on extensive polling in the US, carried out by the Environics Research Group between 1992 and 2004. (In 2003, earlier data from this polling was the basis for a book on the differences between US and Canadian attitudes toward politics, culture, and religion. See this earlier Magpie post for more info.)

What all this polling found is that difference between Democrats and Republicans pale before the gap between people who vote and people who don't. And, says Adams, the attitudes of young adults who are alienated from politics altogether are even more extreme than those of nonvoters as a whole. What unites all the nonvoters is the three main values that drive them:
  • Risk-taking and thrill-seeking
  • Status-seeking
  • Darwinism and exclusion

While Adams sees all these values has worrisome, he's most concerned about the last one on the list. The people whose lives are driven by Darwinism and exclusion, he says, see 'brutal competition as a natural, exhilarating, and even cleansing condition for human coexistence — a dog-eat-dog world in which winners win by any means necessary, including violence, and losers get what they deserve — and are unworthy of sympathy or help.'

But, over the 12 years that polling was done, the most noteworthy change in the values held by people in the US was the increased acceptance of violence. From McLintock's review of the book:

[Acceptance of violence] and those values that support it, are certainly not the dominant values among American citizens at this time — but they are the values that are growing in acceptance faster than any others. And they are growing fastest among young people. When those aged 15 to 20 were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "It's acceptable to use physical force to get something you really want," a full 38 per cent agreed. These values are also espoused by much higher numbers of the politically disengaged than by either Republicans and Democrats.

The over-all conclusion, Adams suggests, is that Republicans and Democrats both believe in the same over-arching vision. They believe that the state is a valuable tool to improve life for all citizens, that citizens have a responsibility to their community and to the larger society, and that the democratic process will lead to the best possible outcome for the largest possible number of citizens. They disagree, in fact, only on the details — the details of how much the state should provide help to the poor or tax relief to businesses, how much and what sort of aid should be given to developing countries, how far changes should go to guarantee principles like gender equity and equal treatment for immigrants.

The politically disaffected, on the other hand, do not share this vision. They see political life as corrupt or ineffective or both, and have become convinced that the only person you can or should depend upon is yourself in this "survival of the fittest" culture.
[Emphasis mine]

And that vision, this magpie would submit, is the end result of the attack on liberal values that the US right has conducted for the past 30 years, in their successful campaign to gain political power.

You can read Barbara McLintock's full review of American Backlash here. Her comments on what Adams' findings may mean for Canadian politics are particularly interesting.

Penguin Canada's webpage for American Backlash is here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:58 AM | Get permalink




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