The Sunday papers were full of drama about the "closest election in forty years"—perhaps one of the closest ever, they said. They just don't get it, political scientists, realized long ago that Gore was a shoo-in. (We're talking about _science_ here, not the foolish opinions of people like you and me.)
Much of the talk Sunday was devoted to the battle for the now legendary Undecideds. What has largely been missing, except for the occasional side story, is an account of the much larger contingent who simply won't bother to vote.
This has puzzled me. You recall the post-election analysis of Jesse Ventura's stunning victory a while back. He was elected governor of Minnesota, so we were told, in large part because his campaign had succeed in mobilizing a number of voters, especially young people, who otherwise wouldn't have voted. ("Mobilizing" was the word the news analysts favored, but it may be a bit deceptive: it means that these people were actually persuaded to register and, on election day, take 15 minutes to vote.)
In a tight presidential race, couldn't Gore or Bush have gained a decisive edge by bringing a modest chunk of those non-voters into the fold? Why didn't they seem to be doing that?
I asked an acquaintance who is more knowledgeable than I am about politics in practice. He said first that Gore and Bush want to concentrate most of their resources on people who are likely to respond to the pitch, and that it doesn't make sense to devote much time, energy, and money to people who may very well remain disaffected. And second, that they count on strongly partisan groups allied with but not funded by their campaigns to communicate a sense of urgency about the election, persuading at least some of the diffident to get off the dime. Hence the mailing I received last week from Dr. James Dobson, which began by asserting that the November 7 election will certainly mark a defining moment in our nation's history."
All this is plausible, and yet not finally persuasive. I have a suggestion for Democrats and Republicans alike—and third party types, like my son Andrew, who did precinct work for the Nader campaign in Los Angeles. Start right now preparing for 2004. Spend some of the money that might otherwise go to TV ads on sampling potential voters who stay at home tomorrow. Figure out what you need to do to get them involved.
The results might surprise us.
John Wilson is Editor of Books & Culture and Editor-at-Large for Christianity Today.
Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
Three Books and a Wedding | Remembering the good news. (Oct. 30, 2000)
Unintelligent Designs | Baylor's dismissal of Polyani Center director Dembski was not a smart move.(Oct. 23, 2000)
Books & Culture Corner: Crying About Wolfe | Is there a scandal of "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind"? (Oct. 16, 2000)
The Light Still Shines | A Harvard-sponsored conference looks at the future of religious colleges. (Oct. 9, 2000)
RU-486 Uncovers a Lie—And It's Not Just About Abortion | Think the abortion pill is indicative of postmodernity? You're wrong. (Oct. 2, 2000)
Pencils Down Part II | Think your vote matters? You poor, misguided fool. (Sept. 18, 2000)
Pencils Down, the Election's Over | According to political scientists, Al Gore has already won. (Sept. 11, 2000)
Humans and Other Animals | How much do we share with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? (Aug. 28, 2000)
Cardinal Mahony's Baloney Sandwich | The public face of Catholic social teaching. (Aug. 21, 2000)
In Praise of Miscegenation | Racial categories don't mean what they used to. Hallelujah. (Aug. 14, 2000)
"Give 'Em Hell, Harry!" | Looking back at the 1948 presidential campaign. By Elizabeth Jacoway (Aug. 7, 2000)
Roaring Lambs | The Evangelical Culture of Euphemism, Part 3. (July 31, 2000)
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