Voters Speak, Pols Don’t Listen

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 05, 2008
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It’s been interesting reading about all the theories surrounding the Democratic caucuses recently held in Hawaii. We’ve been told that the caucuses put Hawaii on the political map for the first time ever. The suggestion was that Hawaii’s Democratic delegates, all 20 of them, would somehow sway the nomination in favor of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

The political scientists are still pontificating about the ramifications of Sen. Dan Inouye’s strong endorsement of Clinton, which was ignored by Democratic Party loyalists and somehow signaled the end of an era. Some even saw evidence that U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s endorsement of Obama showed he is a worthy candidate for governor in the future.

Some observers are suggesting that, in order to figure out what’s going on in Hawaii politics, all one has to do is find out whom the local unions are backing and you will seldom be wrong in your analysis. In point of fact, all of the local unions, even with Sen. Inouye’s strong endorsement of Clinton, didn’t make a significant difference.

Why do political scientists, or any political pundits, for that matter, collaborate? In academic circles, it’s called the “division of cognitive labor.” Everything in science, including political science, is so specialized it’s almost impossible for one person to know everything he or she needs to know about a particular event. During the last debate between Obama and Clinton, one network even had a scientist who analyzes people’s faces while they are talking to predict whether they were sincere, confident and speaking honestly. How many more specializations and new sub-fields of political science can the public take?

One thing is for sure, collaboration allows scientists to incorporate many different kinds of knowledge at the same time. Ultimately, for a collaboration to be successful, it has to make each individual political scientist more productive.

The coin of the realm, for most scientists, is not cash, but recognition. Said another way, scientists are supposed to make all of us smarter.

One of the most interesting things about our Democratic caucuses was the grand turnout. People are still talking about how having a local boy as a candidate really got voters to flock to the polls. Some political scientists suggested it was because there is an African-American candidate squaring off against a Caucasian woman. Others suggested it was due to the importance of the outcome of the delegate count, and our delegates could help determine the next president of the United States! Pretty lavish praise for a poorly engineered caucus night.

It seems the Hawaii Democratic caucuses answered one big question, “How do you get people interested in a political election?” Our voter turnout is traditionally poor by most standards, and has been sliding year after year. I’m not a political scientist by any stretch of the imagination, nor have I collaborated with other individuals interested in the outcome of partisan politics, but it seems rather obvious that if two attractive candidates are after the same prize, voters will turn out in large numbers if they feel their votes might make a difference. It was that simple.

There is also evidence that most politicians themselves don’t pay attention to the outcomes of elections, nor do they fear the voters’wrath. Two years ago, a constitutional amendment was put on the ballot to extend the mandatory retirement age for appointed judges. The amendment was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio, or 80,000 votes, and defeated in every district. Somehow, a proposal has surfaced to put the same constitutional amendment on the ballot for the next election. It has worked its way through the Legislature under the guise of a bill to prevent future “age discrimination.”

It appears that many elected officials don’t worry or really care what the voting public thinks, and none of Hawaii’s political scientists seem very interested in asking why.

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