From gerrymandering to record voter turnout, it’s been a busy year for democracy. This doesn’t mean that everything has been positive, but there’s certainly plenty to reflect on. This week, Michael Berkman and Chris Beem take a look a look back at some of the biggest democracy-related stories of the year and look at what’s in store for next year.
Thank you to everyone who supported Democracy Works this year. The show has been more successful than we ever imagined. If you like what you’ve heard this year, please take a minute to leave us a rating, review, or recommendation wherever you listen to podcasts.
We are excited to bring you more great discussions about all things democracy in 2019. New episodes will begin in mid-January. If you have suggestions for episode topics or guests, we would love to hear them! Email us at email@example.com or complete our contact form.
From cooking to shopping to getting around town, disruption is the name of the game for Millennials. Will they do the same thing to democracy?
Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1996, are now largest generational group in the United States. There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether these 20 and 30-somethings will vote in the 2018 midterms. This episode touches on that, but also explores some of the reasons why Millennials feel disengaged from voting and other traditional forms of political engagement.
Our guest this week literally wrote the book on this topic. Stella Rouse is co-author of The Politics of Millennials, which draws upon existing data about Millennials, as well as surveys and focus groups that Stella and co-author Ashely Ross conducted. They found that events like 9/11 an the 2008 financial crisis profoundly shaped the way Millennials view the world and their place within it — views that run counter to older generations and their views of democratic engagement.
Stella is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics, Director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, and Associate Director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll at the University of Maryland.
If so, do you see them engaged more traditionally in campaigns and voting or non-traditionally in the form of protests?
How do you think Millennials world views will translate into public policy?
If you are not a Millennial, what is the biggest difference you see between this younger generation and your own? Also, what similarities do you see?
What do you think the political views of this generation will look like in 20 years?
[4:49] How do you define a millennial and what about them made you interested in studying their generation further?
Stella: Generally the accepted timeframe is those from the late 80’s to the late 90’s. Millennial are those who grew up mostly around the turn of the century.
[5:30] What are the identity characteristics of this generation?
Stella: It’s composed of a number of factors. Most notably, it is a very diverse generation in American history. They’ve lived around different races and ethnic groups more so than any other generation in the nations history. They are also the first “digital natives”. They don’t know what it’s like to be without the internet or a cellphone in their pocket. This impacts how they experience politics and communicate with others. Also, the events of 9/11 is a significant aspect of this generation in terms of how it views the world around them and the role of America in it.
[7:30] How to millennial see themselves as citizens?
Stella: Millennials are more engaged in non-traditional forms of engagement such as voting or working on campaigns. People look at this and then see the generation as being apathetic politically. However, this doesn’t take into account their engagement in more non-traditional political formats such as protests and rallies. They are also more engaged in the local level than the national level. The key question is how is this activity translated into voting. I don’t have a straight answer for that. A lot of it involved getting them into the habit of voting.
[10:08] Do you sense any momentum on the part of this generation to shape the political system to fit to its interest rather than it adapting to the current political climate?
Stella: Yes. We are seeing a lot of Millennials run for office. Particularly, minorities of this group are running for office. I think in the next few years we’re going to see this continue. Then, once in office, they’ll be able to shape the political landscape to better reflect their world view.
[11:10] This generation also identifies at a greater rate than those before them as global citizens. How does this square with their involvement in local political issues?
Stella: When I say local I don’t mean they’re voting at the local level. Where the participate traditionally is still higher at the national level than the local level. One thing about this generation is that they’re very distrustful of institutions. This includes political parties. This makes sense given the fact that their time has been filled with the greatest partisan divide in American politics in generations. Therefore, they are much more likely to identify as independents. Their lack of identification along party lines leads to lower levels of traditional political engagement in the form of campaigning and voting.
[13:00] We’ve talked about the separation of liberalism and the democratic norm of institutions. Do you see this divide growing as this generations comes into political power?
Stella: It could be, but the jury is still out on this. They have an internal conflict that they distrust institutions but they know they have to play by the rules in order to change it. It’s not clear if they’ll play the game and try to bring about change from the inside or whether they’ll maintain their outsider status and try to change things from the outside.
[14:35] We saw Obama and Sanders as two political figures who resonated with this generation. What about them do you think made them so appealing to this generation?
Stella: They spoke to the issues they cared about. Particularly, Obama really addressed them in the mediums they cared about, such as social media. Even though he is not a millennial, he became the millennial president.
[16:09] How does Donald Trump play among Millennials?
Stella: Not too well. He is not very popular amongst them. That’s not to say there isn’t a segment of the generation who support him, but about two thirds of the generation don’t support him or his policies. His policies related to immigration and diversity go against the preferences of millennials.
[17:02] Is there anything to suggest that millennials will become more conservative as they get older?
Stella: That is a really good question. An important point we try to make is that this group is not monolithic in that they aren’t all liberals. On a number of policies they are more liberal, but on others, they look a lot like older more conservative generations. One particular issue is abortion. Their numbers on this issue look more like those of generation X or the baby boomer generation. This is also repeated when it comes to issues of the economy. They aren’t some socialist block. However, they are very liberal on issues such as healthcare where they think it should be a government protected right. This has a lot to do with the time in which they came to age. Especially on issues such as student loan debt which is another issue area where they’re very liberal. It remains to be determined whether these positions will drift to the right as they get older.
[22:32] What do the older generations need to know in order to work better with Millennials?
Stella: I think one reason why those in government don’t’ reach out to millennials is because they don’t’ see them as an electoral threat because of their low voting numbers. To reach out, they have to meet them halfway. They need to acknowledge that millennials have a lot to say. However, they have to reach out to them in their preferred medium. Ultimately, I don’t think we’ll see politicians change their approach until millennials force them to by showing up on their radar as an electoral issue.
[24:00] What role does the financial situation of this generation have on their willingness to engage politically in more traditional formats?
Stella: Economic power speaks to political power. Their inability to acquire economic power due to unemployment or underemployment prevents the acquisition of this power in order to challenge political leaders. However, we’ve always had this issue amongst the current young generation at any given time.
[28:00] What do you expect to see in terms of Millennial turnout in the 2018 midterms?
Stella: I suspect that we’ll see higher rates than we’ve seen in previous elections. Whether this motivation actually translates to votes is still open to debate. If I had to guess, I’d say we’ll see an increase in voter participation amongst this generation.
The problems with the prison system in the U.S. have been well documented, but what’s not talked about nearly as often is how things got this way. Why does there seem to be such enthusiasm for putting people in jail? One answer might be the shift toward “risk management policing” that Frank Baumgartner described in last week’s episode, but there’s something else at play — and that’s what we explore this week with Peter Enns.
Peter is an associate professor of Government at Cornell University and author of Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World. Peter argues that, since the 1970s, media coverage has shaped public opinion about incarceration, which lead to an increase in people going to prison even as the crime rate went down. This created a vicious cycle of people seeing news about crimes, becoming more supportive of punitive measures, and a shift away from viewing prison as a rehabilitative experience.
Much like we heard from last week about the empathy gap in policing, a similar gap exists between the people going to jail and the people watching or reading news stories about the criminal justice system. Peter taught in Cornell’s prison education program and saw firsthand what daily life looks like for inmates and the possibilities that exist for prison reform programs.
One final note: We added a new voice into the mix this week. Andy Grant, our audio engineer, had some questions for Peter that you’ll hear toward the end of the interview.
Why do you think the general public has largely supported more punitive measures over the last several decades?
Do you think the saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ holds true? What role do you think media has here?
What other changes would you make to the current criminal justice system?
Is it antithetical to a democratic society to have so many people incarcerated?
We have a very high recidivism rate. This means once you’ve been to jail, you’re likely to end up going back due to a parole violation or another violation. How do you think the system can better prepare convicts to get out and stay out?
Going forward, do you think our incarceration rate will decrease?
[4:58] Why do so many people in the United States want others to face jail time?
Peter: A Key to this study is noting how public opinion has shifted on this issue over time. The trend towards supporting incarceration really picked up across the sixties through to the nineties. A large factor in this trend was how media covered crime.
[5:38] How do you think the media contributes to how the public perceives the issue of crime where they live?
Peter: There are two aspects of this. One is the “if it bleeds, it leads” aspect of media coverage of crime. Also, the number of crimes committed by racial minorities are largely over reported.
[7:15] How have things changes over time?
Peter: This is really interesting because the crime rate has actually been decreasing since the 90’s but many people aren’t aware of this. The public has become less punitive as crime rates have gone down. However, the trend is not in line with the rate in decrease of crime. While the trend in public opinion is starting to change, the problem is that there is such a massive system in place that it is difficult to reverse this high incarceration rate. It is not as simply as turning off a switch. However, some meaningful changes have been occurring.
One example is that there has been a lot of discussion recently around the cash bail system and how strange it is. The way this works is that if you’re arrested and can’t afford your judge set bail, you’re going to stay in jail until trial. Many localities are revisiting this. The decriminalization of drug offenses is also a massive development impacting the incarceration rate.
[9:45] How does the prison experience impact ones views on government when they eventually get out of prison?
Peter: A large role in how we view government is our interaction with aspects of government such as the DMV. Imagine being in prison and having life as a prisoner being your main interaction with a government entity or structure. That tends to have a negative effect on levels of political participation amongst those who have been previous locked up.
[11:53] Is there an empathy gap where those who are in power are not aware of the problems in the criminal justices system?
Peter: Absolutely. Another important aspect of this is to remember that those who have been convicted are being judges based on likely the worst thing they’ve ever done. Imagine how we’d feel if we were publicly evaluated over and over again based on the worst thing we ever did.
[12:50] Could you tell us about your work with the Cornell prison education program?
Peter: Most recently, I was teaching a course in Auburn correctional facility. What the program does is teach college level education courses to those in maximum security prison in the middle of New York State. The course I thought to the convicts was the same one I thought as part of a senior seminar for government students. The students did a great job and it was a phenomenal experience.
[13:58] In this program, did you see a difference in the way the inmates were handling the course as compared to Cornell students you had lectured in the past?
Peter: I would say there was a higher level of maturity amongst the students. A large misconception that I came into contact with is the idea that inmates have a ton of free time to just sit around and read. However, many of them are assigned work detail within prison. In this sense, they are a lot like your regular college student who also has a part time job they have to juggle along with school work.
[16:00] How do you think the public’s attitude towards incarceration match with its position on other issues?
Peter: A key concept here is how someone will reintegrate with society. The vast majority of those incarcerated right now will be released back into society. Regardless as to ones political association, data shows that we all want people to be successfully introduced back into society once released from prison. However, this common interest is over powered by the punitive state. A major problem here is the parole board system
We know there is a high recidivism rate. A large portion of this is due to technical violations of parole terms. Such as the use of drugs of those who are addicted to drugs. If someone relapse, which is very common amongst addicts, will end up in someone out of parole ending up back in prison. One way to address this could be to provide a better support system for those leaving prison. For example, people who I know who have been in prison faced living in a homeless shelter the first night out because there was no structure to hell them integrate back into society.
[21:00] There have been more discussion around this administration about prison reforms. Where do you think these conversations are heading?
Peter: I think we’ve seen an increase in efforts because of the role of public opinion, which as the data shows is trending towards a decrease in support for heavy incarceration. However, due to high level of political polarization at the federal level, most of the actual legislative progress that we’ve seen has been as the state and local level. A perfect example of this involves discussion to close Rikers Island in New York. The debate now is just how quickly it will be closed. It is sort of stunning think about this ironing symbol of incarceration in America facing closure.
[22:30] Do you think our criminal justice system is more structured as a punitive or rehabilitative system?
Peter: I think the balance has shifted over the course of time. Right now, I think it is shifting away from a punitive minded system. However, right now I think the system is certainly more punitive orientated.
One of the biggest headlines to emerge heading into the 2018 midterms is the record number of female candidates in local, state, and national races. While it’s easy to point to this a post-Trump reaction, there’s much more that goes into persuading women to run and helping them raise the money and build the relationships needed to make it into office.
Rebecca Kreitzer, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has been studying the groups that exist to help elect women into office. She and Tracy Osborn from the University of Iowa have counted more than 400 groups around the country modeled in the tradition of Emily’s List.
Much like the groups Lara Putnam described, this is grassroots-level politics in action with women working to promote each other and make their voices heard. As you’ll hear Rebecca describe, there are several reasons why it’s important for women to have a voice in the legislature. However, with so many groups operating at the same time, there are bound to be conflicts and missteps, which Rebecca has also studied.
This interview was recorded at the 2018 American Political Science Association State Politics and Policy Conference, which was held at Penn State in June.
How important is diversity in a legislature for a democracy?
How (if at all) do you think our democracy would change if there were more women in office?
Rebecca mentioned that female candidates are a harder time raising money. Why do you think this is?
What do you think is the best way to elect more women into office?
According to Rebecca, many group that support female candidates use abortion as a litmus test to determine whether or not to endorse someone. What do you think about this policy?
Beyond women, are there other groups you feel need to have a higher level of representation in elected office?
[4:09] Why do these groups exist for female candidates?
Rebecca: Around the world, there are structure in place to ensure a share of female representation in office, such as quotas. However, that doesn’t exist in the United States. In addition, you have other factors, such as the fact that women tend to have lower levels of political ambition. They also need to be encouraged to run for office. Unfortunately, elected officials are less likely to encourage women to run for office.
These groups are all around the country. Some of them are federal level groups. Others are loosely collected groups modeled after others, such as Emily’s List. There are over 400 such groups with at least one in every state.
[6:06] With so many groups, is there ever a problem of one group sort of stepping on the toes of another?
Rebecca: Some of them are coordinated. These are the ones that are chapters or branches of larger state or national groups. However, most of the groups do work in silos meaning that they work on their own and don’t share resources with other groups. We don’t really know why that is. We think it due to the fact that they’re competing both for resources as well as possible candidates.
[7:09] How do these groups go about recruiting someone who both meets their ideological aims but who can also win an election?
Rebecca: This is a problem because we know that those who are most involved with these groups also tend to enjoy high levels of privilege. Therefore, if these are your scouts, they are going to go after those who they think are good candidates. This could further explain the gap in the group of those who are privileged both financially as well as racially. Many of these groups have diversity goals yet lack plans to actually accomplish this mission. Unfortunately, we don’t know if these efforts are leading to more women being elected to office.
[9:43] What role does the issue of reproductive rights and abortion have in these groups determining who they will get behind?
Rebecca: Of the 400 groups we know of, roughly the same number (about 80) openly support either liberal or conservative candidates. While this gives the appearance of ideological balance amongst these groups, there are those in the middle with no official political affiliation. However, they aren’t as non-partisan as they make themselves appear. A large portion of them require a very pro-choice position from potential female candidates. A very small of these middle groups actually have either a pro-life stance or no position at all on this issue. When you take the issue of abortion into account, there are many more opportunities for pro-choice women than there are for pro-life women.
[11:24] What happens to these women when they win office? Also, why should we care how many women are in office?
Rebecca: Women legislators do face many challenges that male colleagues simply don’t. These include how the media covers them as well as how they raise money. These challenges can vary from state to state and from setting to setting. When it comes to actually making policy, women often lack the seniority which is crucial in actually getting legislation passed.
A popular caveat about women in politics is that they tend to win when they do run. However, this is largely due to the fact that these female candidates are often times much more qualified than their male counterparts.
As to why we should care about the portion of female representation, it actually matters for a number of reasons. One is that it is important for democratic legitimacy that their governing bodies accurately reflect those who they govern. This includes both gender as well as racial diversity. It also helps to empower women and increase legitimacy in our institutions. This is also important due to substantive representation. For example, women are more likely to address issues with policy that are important issues for women. Women tend to introduce and sponsor more bills that have to do with women’s issues. Diversity in government is also important because different people can take different bits of information from a situation and offer different takes on an issue than their counterparts.
Across the U.S., the process to register to vote and cast a ballot is different in every state. And we’re not just talking about minor details. The entire registration process and timeline can vary widely from one state, as do the regulations surrounding campaign finance and electoral maps.
Pennsylvania tends to fall on the more restrictive side of things, and Governor Tom Wolf is trying to change that. Earlier this year, he announced the 21st Century Voting Reform Plan, which includes same day voter registration, changes to the absentee ballot process, as well as campaign finance reform.
Kathy Boockvar, Senior Advisor to the Governor on Election Modernization, has spent the past few months traveling to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to build consensus the plan. We talked with her about using technology to increase voting access without compromising voter data in the process, and about the criticism from Pennsylvania Republicans that the voting reform plan is a convenient tactic for a Democratic governor in an election year.
While this episode talks specifically about Pennsylvania, the compromises that must be made across counties and municipalities exists everywhere and is indicative of why states are sometimes referred to as “laboratories of democracy.” It’s also an insight into the hard work that it takes to make large-scale change to one of the most fundamental parts of democracy.
Are there any problems that you’ve noticed in your state’s voting procedures?
If so, what improvements would you like to see your state enact?
As voting systems move more towards technological advancements, are you worried about data security?
Do you think the systems we currently use have been influenced by foreign entities?
Do you think there is a political motivation behind the efforts in Pennsylvania to changing voting procedures including the redistricting campaign?
[4:30] What do you think of when you hear the term “electoral modification”?
Kathy: We have a chance to advance both our technology as it relates to voting, as well as enabling more people to get to the polls. One example is the replacement of our aging voting machines. Also, we want to improve the way in which we register people to vote.
[5:40] Can you talk a little about how the governor’s voting plan came about?
Kathy: The governor is dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to vote. Globally, we actually have a very low level of voter turnout. This plans includes not just the effort to increase vote turnout but also to address campaign finance reform and redistricting efforts. So there is a lot of work to do.
[6:30] Is there something you’re trying to tackle first?
Kathy: Absentee voting is one area we are addressing now. The State department has been working with the counties to work on improving this process, such as not requiring an excuse to be able to vote absentee. The way people travel and commute has change. We think this should lead to an updated voting procedure. We think we can really streamline the entire process
[8:00] It sounds like a daunting task. What do you think has contributed to the inability to make these changes in the past?
Kathy: There are many important partnerships between the state and local municipalities. This change doesn’t happen in a vaccine and requires cooperation with all of these small local governments.
[9:00] Do you find that concerns are different throughout the state, such as between urban areas like Philadelphia as compared to more rural areas?
Kathy: Every county is different from the next. Due to this, we aren’t going to find a magic solution that makes everyone happy. Therefore, coming to an agreement is going to require a lot of give and take between everyone.
[10:30] Do you look around the country and see the process of any particular state as a goal to reach here in Pennsylvania?
Kathy: All of the aspects of the plan we’re trying to instill have been introduced in other places. I’ve spoken with those in other states to discuss what they’ve done to improve their operations, such as updating the voting machines. Another example is same day registration, which has been adopted by many other states including D.C. This gives us a lot of great models to work from.
[11:30] Some have expressed concerns about Russia being able to hack the older voting machines. Is this a concern of yours?
Kathy: What a lot of people don’t realize is just how many security measures we have in place to protect the election. Also, that we are constantly expanding these. It is actually very difficult to conduct wide spread hacking of our system because of these checks. However, another problem is the age of our machines. One problem this brings is that newer operating systems may not be supported by these older machines going forward.
[13:20] Can you speak a little about the redistricting effort that we’ve seen?
Kathy: I think it’s becoming rather clear that the way in which these lines have been drawn does not reflect the intentions of the founders. Also, it doesn’t serve the best interests of the voters themselves. Therefore, we strongly support a change of the procedure to put the decision making in the hands of those who aren’t directly invested in the outcome of the redistricting. We also support not having political considerations involved in the process of drawing the lines. These efforts should get us back to the original intentions of having nice square districts that group similar communities together.
[15:00] How do you strike a balance between using technology to advance the system while also keeping voter information safe?
Kathy: Data security is going to be an issue we have to worry about for a long time going forward. This impacts every area of our life from medical information to our voting information. In terms of voting information, it is important to remember that there are many checks in place protecting your information. Also, it is important that people know that their voting results are never connected to the internet. Our systems are never linked up to any network. All results are personally delivered to the higher ups who officiate and confirm the election results.
[17:20] Republican opponents of the governor have claimed that this effort he is engaged in is simply a political move. Could you speak to that a little?
Kathy: The governor has been dedicated to this effort for decades well before he became governor. At the same time, we’re realistic about the political climate here and we realize that this won’t all pass this year. It is important to start this conversation. Given that we’re a battle ground state, it is concerning that we rank around the middle of the pack on voter turnout.
[21:00] What motivates you in this work?
Kathy: You never feel more connected to the idea of democracy than when you’re working to expand those who participate in the process via voting. The conversations with the individual counties is absolutely a part of that process in Pennsylvania. The people involved in this are very committed to making sure every vote is counted.