lessons from America

The Beyonce effect

Ugh. Looks like I might have to confront the vestiges of elitism and cultural snobbery I have and admit that our culture of celebrity worship can be harnessed for the greater good of democracy.  Research by academics at Washington State University has found that:

“Celebrities have the power to motivate civic engagement regardless of their own grasp of the issues at hand.  … Celebrity endorsed campaigns successfully lowered complacency and helped young people believe in their own impact on the political system. Young people got involved at higher levels and became increasingly aware of societal issues. … The cause of this dramatic increase in voter participation of young people in 2004 can largely be attributed to celebrity get-out-the-vote promotions.”

Turnout among young voters in the US dropped to 40 percent in 1996 and 2000, but it rebounded to 49 percent in 2004.  My unscientific of why youth turnout increased at the 2004 election always had new technology and new ways of engaging people (kicked off by the Dean primary campaign); along with increased partisanship and the realisation of the high stakes involved, whichever side you supported.  Doctoral student Nick Anstead has done real research on this, and his analysis is worth checking out; especially on what can be applied to British politics.

But if the Washington State research is correct, and the cultural pull of celebrity is the same here, which famous people would you see having an effect on driving up youth and first-time-voter turnout in the UK?  We had our own version of Rock the Vote in 1997 and apparently the Sun tried to do something similar in 2005.  But who would work this time round; if it would work at all?

October 22, 2008 Posted by | lessons from America | , , | Leave a comment

The distorted lens

And I’m not talking the media for once.  It’s always gratifying seeing other people blog about the the pitfalls of the ‘winner-takes-all’ system, or at least pick up and supporting what political anoraks like me and my much more learned brethren on 538 are saying.  Exhibit A is this from the Guardian’s technology blog: has lots of maps – including the remarkable result from 1984, when Reagan got 525/538 of the “electoral college” votes while getting 60% of the votes, and the amazing one from 1972, when Nixon got 62% of the votes cast but 520 “electoral college” votes. And then there’s 2000, when.. oh no, let’s not. Which goes to show how the first-past-the-post system, as used in the US states – and here, since you mention it – can distort things.”

It’s also highly unusual but very welcome to find specific mention of the electoral reform campaign on the back page rather than the inside / comment pages of newspapers. But here Martin Samuels, the Times’ chief football correspondent, makes an insightful connection between politics and sport.  I’m going come back to this article – exhibit B as it were – in another post shortly.

October 22, 2008 Posted by | lessons from America, systems | , | Leave a comment