November 7, 2012

Voting for neither major party, 1788 to 2012

Compared to the anti-establishment era that had only stirred awake during the 1960s but that charged forward with vigor during the '80s and early '90s, the past 20 years feel like we've stepped into The Twilight Zone. We have returned to the mid-century worship of Big Business and Big Government, though this time without Big Labor. And that is nowhere more evident than in the sights of people wrapped around city blocks, eagerly lining up to suck the cock of an authority figure like Steve Jobs or Barack Obama.

Sadly but predictably our Facebook feeds today are filling up with all kinds of childish gloating and naked worship of a political party, again harking back to the mid-century totalitarianism that we saw under Roosevelt, but that extended also to Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR.

If they'd voted for Obama while saying he was the lesser of two evils, they were going to hold their nose, I don't wanna but I gotta -- fair enough, they pass the test for being a normal human being. But the RAH-RAH surge that folks get from politics today is clearly the sign of a polluted mind. It's one of those diseases of civilization that is absent among hunter-gatherers, who are more egalitarian and strive to limit rather than encourage power-seekers.

That kind of pride in not being a slave to authority also shows up among pastoralists, although they do get organized at greater scales than hunter-gatherers do. The nadir of tribalism is found more in tropical gardening societies and in the factions struggling for elite control of settled agrarian societies. Like tuberculosis and vitamin D deficiency, that mindset seems to be on the wane in industrial societies. But as America continues to fragment, probably heading toward secession of smaller regions from the untenably large and unthreatened empire, we could see another eruption of tribalism -- and today's deluge of Facebook snark is hardly encouraging.

Well, now that I've got all the hot air out of my system, let's take a look at some hard data to see when voters were more conformist and when they were more into shaking the system up. I'm not taking into account which particular parties were the third parties, what they stood for, etc., since most voters are not very knowledgeable about the issues. A third-party vote is more of a vote against the mainstream than for the specific platform. I'm also not even looking at who the mainstream parties were.

All I'm interested in is how willing were people to spend (not "waste") their vote on a third-party candidate, to collectively buy a megaphone and shout the message of Not Takin' This Shit No More to whoever ends up occupying the White House. In their minds, that popular pressure is more important than squeezing a particular candidate into the Oval Office.

The graph below shows the percent of the popular vote that went to anyone other than the two parties with the greatest shares (click to enlarge).

Granted, the data are only at 4-year intervals, and there's a good deal of noise because of so many other factors influencing voting patterns. Still, the periods when people voted more for third parties fell within rising-crime times, whereas people in falling-crime times shifted toward complacency with the status quo. There was plenty of third-party popularity during the increasingly violent American Gothic period around the mid-19th C., leading up to the Civil War. Then it falls off a cliff during the Gilded Age.

We don't know when exactly the turn-of-the-century crime wave kicks off, but it's no later than 1900. So the third-party success in 1892 is a tough call. However, there was even greater support during the Jazz Age. As the world became safer during the mid-century, voters hardly opted at all to rock the boat.

Once the '60s got going, people got back into the rambunctious mood at the voting booth, throwing their support toward a Southern populist, no less -- talk about being anti-establishment. That continued further in 1980, and peaked in the 1992 election when Ross Perot -- who landed on Planet Earth with no earlier visibility whatsoever -- won nearly 1 out of every 5 votes. In the falling-crime period ever since then, we've returned to the complacent political behavior of the mid-century, where only 1-2% have voted for a third party in recent elections.

But, to look on the bright side of history, at least we can't be subjected to a full repeat of mid-century authority worship, since they passed an amendment to prevent another four-term President like Roosevelt. God knows if it were possible, we could've easily had 16 years of Clinton, or even of Obama.

Why is there a link between the trend in the violence rate and people's willingness to vote for third parties? When there is a growing, palpable sense of disorder, the godlike attributes of authority are put to a litmus test, and not being omniscient, omnipotent, nor omnibenevolent, they fail pathetically. People see with their own eyes how misplaced the earlier faith had been, and they get more experimental -- unfamiliar dangers call for more trial-and-error, and keeping what seems to work. The hippie communes of the late '60s and early '70s did not last, but Dirty Harry did.

During a falling-crime period, people see the world getting safer and stabler, so whatever the experts and authority figures are doing, it seems to be going well. So, don't risk upsetting this welcome trend by making waves in the voting booth. The sad reality is that crime waves reverse of their own accord, meaning at the grassroots level where people begin cocooning more and thereby expose themselves less and less to criminals who would prey on them out in the open.

Attributing this decline in crime to the authorities sets the society up for yet another wave of crime, when people assume it's safe to come out and play again, and there'll be no need to worry about your safety or looking out for one another, because the experts and authorities have already driven crime down so low. This false illusion of a governmental safety net lulls them into waltzing out into dangerous situations unprepared. Only when faith in control-by-experts starts to unravel, do they wake up and -- while not fleeing back inside -- take more social, face-to-face measures to look out for and be looked out for by others in their community.


  1. During rising-crime, government authority is seen as counterproductive, corrupt, or just plain incompetent.

    In the vigilante movies, there's always a "Stupid Police Chief" who's either a self-serving bureacrat, or has his hands tied by procedures and "liberal judges"(at least one of the schwarzenegger movies used that term).

    In E.T., the bad guys are faceless government agents or CIA agents.

    In the original Star Wars movies, the empire was evil and corrupt, but also bureacratically inept, being whooped by a bunch of teddy bears.


  2. You've talked a lot about coccooning nowadays in a low crime environment. When does low crime start leading to naive use of public space?

  3. Last time around it seemed like the latish 1950s when teenagers started colonizing public spaces again. The first year of the rising crime rate was 1959, so it doesn't take criminals long to sense the shift in public vs. private space occupation.

    Adding 60 years to guess when it would happen this time, maybe around the end of this decade?

  4. "In the vigilante movies, there's always a "Stupid Police Chief" "

    It's amazing how much the cop genre has changed from that era to Law & Order (and spin-offs), CSI, etc.

  5. Ross Perot was exciting too.

  6. When I went canvassing, I wondered how could Mitt win when so many Scots-Irish people did not care about ANYTHING. They were afraid and hid or were hostile to me and my little girls for being STRANGERS (not identifiable as canvassers).

    This does not take away from anything I said at Steve's about improvement on issues and mechanics, but I also sensed we were up against something very fundamental, cocooning and complacency, that you can't do anything about.
    I only went out once.
    I said to myself that they probably don't even go to church and weren't going to cast a vote, not even a third-party one.

    If you don't believe me that this wasn't related to politics, one canvasser went out dressed up and was easily identifiable and caught flack about "soliciting" from a woman sporting a Romney bumper sticker on her car! My friend got the woman to calm down by pointing out said bumper sticker and how it was different than others! Could you imagine a black person with an Obama sticker treating a black Obama canvasser this way?

    If you're right, Agnostic, the "white party" is partly held hostage to the storm und drang of so many of its members. Helps explain the evangelical turn-out in '80, '84, partly in '88, and '04.

  7. I found this after I went canvassing and this man, a Dem strategist, absolutely nailed so many of the people I came across:

    “They suck lemons,” Hart said with a chuckle on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown on Wednesday morning. “I mean, they are the sourest people I have ever — beyond really negative. ‘Neither’ is their favorite answer. . . . We’re talking about ‘up for grabs’ people, but in reality, a lot of these people are not going to vote.”

    hilarious, but sadly, spot-on.

    Only one Ron Paul voter out of 60+ I came across. Had so much fun with him, encouraging him to tell me, so I could write down, why he was voting for Paul :)

  8. Are you near West Virginia by any chance? The hillbilly side of my family is from around eastern Ohio, W VA, and western PA. It was pretty solid when I visited my grandparents in the '80s, or not disintegrating anyway.

    But when I've been back there in the past 5 years, the whole place is on life support. The brain drain that began, I forget, but sometime from the '50s to the '70s, has sucked the upper half and more of the bell curve out, at least to Columbus OH, perhaps even further out to other parts of the country.

    Nobody is under 40 years old, except for the poor teenagers and children who can't pick up and leave for college just yet. Young adults visiting from outside seem like aliens from outer space.

    All of the graffiti is 25 years old or more -- Van Halen, "I Love Susie" (now an older name), and so on.

    And the people who remain are in a vegetative and what-are-you-looking-at kind of state. Just one day after another of boredom and depression, relying mostly on the self-medication of booze, cigarettes, and TV.

    .... Anyway, that's a long way of saying that the old bastion of hillbilly and redneck conservatism is beyond repair at this point. Its goose is cooked.

    If conservatives want to turn things around, I think they're going to have to start moving out to the Mountain states, or at least the Plains states. There's a lot more social cohesion, less depressing dysfunction, and more civic infrastructure out here compared to the Appalachians or the Deep South.

    Arizona will probably become the leader, kind of like southern California during the good old days. And there's still plenty of Scotch-Irish genes out here, especially up in Montana.

    We're getting all sorts of refugees from the West Coast, and they're bringing some degree of liberal faggot pollution with them. But if they've bailed on the West Coast before it's already sunk, they at least have some common sense and pragmatism.

    When the country starts breaking up, I can't see the Southeast and the Mountain / Plains states joining up. It would beat being kept under the thumb of blue state America, but there's just too many differences.

    I wish 'em the best, especially if they feel too attached to their land to move, but the Mountain West is where the show is at now.

  9. Colorado seems like a dumping ground for various extremist liberals.


  10. According to Gelman, roughly 30% of the population voted for Obama, 30% for Romney, and 40% didn't (with roughly 1 out of that 40 voting for a third party, the rest not voting.

  11. Yeah I don't know if they're gonna make it or not. They'll probably join up with New Mexico and maybe even large parts of Texas, which is increasingly turning Hispanic and thus liberal.

  12. Also, it's easier to have a "stupid police chief" in a movie than a tv show. Tv shows run for a long time with lasting relationships between characters, and even heel characters tend to be lent sympathy at some point. Movies are shorter and Harry can turn in his badge to pursue things on his own.

  13. Not to get too sidetracked, but, now that I think about it, "Colorado liberals" are more like blue-collar types who hitch themselves to New Agey stuff, just have a sheen of sophistication.



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