Let’s Have Lower Turnout

It’s an article of faith among Democrats that high turnout is good for both democracy and them. There’s no evidence to support either claim.

This year 40 million votes have already been cast before election day and we’ll likely set a modern day record for midterm turnout. And the result of all that democracy on steroids? The Democrats will certainly lose the House; the only question is by how much. It’s also more likely than not that Republicans will win the Senate and a slew of governor’s races, perhaps here in Wisconsin. And even if Tony Evers ekes out a win, the GOP could capture a veto proof majority here. Democrats will be down to only two Congressional seats when we lose the Third CD in southwest Wisconsin to election denier Derrick Van Orden.

In fact, there’s no historical evidence that high turnout boosts Democrats, even going back before the age of Trump. In an article in National Affairs from last year, two academic researchers wrote, “Both Republicans and Democrats are convinced — and have been for some time — that higher turnout will help Democrats and hurt Republicans. The conviction is widely shared, but inaccurate. Put simply, there is no evidence that turnout is correlated with partisan vote choice.”

So, if high turnout doesn’t help Democrats, is it at least good for democracy? Hundreds of election deniers will win office tomorrow and some of those offices will be in local and state positions that actually run elections, setting up all kinds of trouble for 2024. With all that democracy producing all those election denying officeholders, it would appear that democracy could kill democracy.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

The fundamental problem is that what’s driving all this turnout is not textbook, League of Women Voters, town hall meeting style civic engagement. No, it’s bitterness and fear. We’re not so much voting for our guys as voting against their guys. There are plenty of Republicans who despise Donald Trump and his acolytes but they’ll vote for them anyway because they think the “socialists” in the Democratic Party are out to destroy America. There are lots of Democrats who question the priorities and values of their own party elites, but will be damned if they’ll vote for the party of insurrection. (Count me among that latter group.) This is not the vote as a tool of democracy, but the vote as a bludgeon to punish those on the other side of the cultural divide.

This, by the way, is one reason that I’m in a small minority of folks who does not like early voting. The point of voting weeks in advance is that there’s nothing to decide. It doesn’t matter what a candidate might say in the closing weeks or what world or local events might change your perspective. You’re going to vote straight party line no matter what. We could really make voting easy is if we would just allow people to designate in advance which ticket they’ll endorse. Just vote me Democratic up and down the ballot until you hear from me otherwise.

It’s true that early voting might be more of a symptom of the disease than the problem itself, but it does reenforce the notion that there’s no point in even listening to the arguments.

It’s clear that all of this aggressive voting is not a sign of civic health. Quite the opposite. We were a stronger, better and happier democracy when turnout was low and people griped that there just wasn’t much difference between the two parties.

I’ve been researching a book about Wisconsin politics in the 1980’s. I came across a memo written for Democratic candidates in 1986 by a premier pollster in those days, Peter Hart. In it Hart tells his clients that his polling and focus groups tell him that voters in 1986 don’t care much about party identification or even issues. Their top concern is the character of the candidate.

In 1986 voter turnout nationwide was 36%. And one result in that election was that Democratic Gov. Tony Earl lost to Tommy Thompson. When Earl called Thompson to concede, Tommy asked him if they could still remain friends. Earl replied that of course they could.

By tomorrow we’ll likely exceed 50% turnout. We’re not likely to hear about the same kind of exchange between Evers and Tim Michels, no matter which way it goes. So, answer this question for me: high turnout should be our goal because?

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

21 thoughts on “Let’s Have Lower Turnout

  1. Tough choice. You’re voting for the party of insurrection or the party of riots and secession.

    Last night’s 60 minutes segment on social media fueling extremism was fascinating.


    1. The GOP either denying or ignoring climate change is the deciding factor for me. Converting to renewables would not only help fight climate change – which we greatly need, it would reduce foreign energy dependence, increase good jobs in Wisconsin specifically, and reduce air pollution. But most of the GOP will have none of it because fossil fuel donors line their pockets.


  2. Your framing of the argument is a demonstration of what you are arguing against. The party which you oppose is the party of insurrection – continues fueling the hyper-partisan divide you complain about. People voting will be the death of democracy? Why not join Beschloss and Reiner and say that if Republicans win your children will die and Republicans will literally kill you?

    Acknowledge, as you have in the past, that the Democratic party is continuously f’ing up. Then make the courageous move to saying you could understand why sane rational people are flocking to the Republican party as a result and some of the rift could begin to heal.

    While I will vote for many Republicans in this election, I do not look forward, and hopefully I am mistaken, to one-sided Republicanism.


      1. I don’t_think_so.

        Threatening nuclear war, dismantling the Constitution, aggressively destroying societal norms are only a few of the ways I come to my assessment of the Democratic party.

        I am trans-partisan. I don’t care for either party, as neither has represented the interests of the vast majority of citizens for an awfully long time. If the Democrats were doing something right, I would support them. For example, I probably would have supported a Tulsi Gabbard Presidential ticket. But the Democrats f’ed that one up too.


    1. I mean, he regularly – almost daily – acknowledges Dems are effing up on this blog.
      I have no problem admitting that, I agree in many areas they are.
      Their hard-line stances and refusal to admit nuance on issues like high school trans-athletes, coming up with the dumbest catch phrase in recent memory with “defund the police”, and so forth. What more do you want?

      That said, I will not vote for any Republican who continues to claim the election was stolen, attempts to downplay January 6th, or denies or ignores climate change. That eliminates immediately basically all Republicans – and certainly all the ones on my ballot.
      The Wisconsin brand of GOP anti-democratic moves over the past decade from the lame duck session stripping Evers and Kaul of power, to refusing for four years to even hold confirmation hearings on nearly all of Evers appointees so they can either fire them at will or deny strong environmental regulations by holding the DNR Natural Resources Board in stasis further solidifies this position.

      What, may I ask, has led to your decision to vote for the GOP this election?


      1. yeegads, I will respond as if your question is genuine, though past interactions suggest otherwise.

        In no particular order and only a few reasons why I will support Republicans in this election:

        Health policy – Democrats have routinely_not_followed ‘the science’, an unscientific phrase, with regards to covid. They slammed lockdowns on society. Yes, Trump did too, though it wasn’t him instituting the policies. Lockdowns had no basis in science, and they exacted an incredible toll on every aspect of society, which we will be paying for for decades. Masking – the science, prior to covid was unambiguous, they don’t work. Vaccine mandates, up to the point of social excommunication (religious term used intentionally), and now the almost total obeisance to Pfizer from the FDA only add exclamation points.

        Ridiculous stance on crime.

        The stifling of free speech via backdoor censorship of social media, cancel culture and school indoctrination.

        The corruption and incompetence of the Biden regime, first of which is threatening nuclear war. This by itself would have been sufficient for me to vote for an alternative.

        The incompetence of Evers in educational policy, amplified by local far left politicians. Evers following along with the policies listed in my first paragraph. I’m not wild about Michels and a Republican only government is deeply troubling.

        My support of Ron Johnson, who acted courageously and intelligently in questioning the covid narrative. I was leaning towards him before he conducted hearings on covid therapies based on the extreme bias of the left press in Wisconsin. It was so ad hominem based I knew I had to look at other sources for information about him. When I did, I was pretty happy with many of his positions and will be happy to vote for him tomorrow.

        I hope that the Democrats take tomorrow’s baking as a lesson. I don’t think that will happen because:

        Republicans bend over backwards for the Military/Industrial/Pharmaceutical/Surveillance state. Democrats bend over forwards. And we all get screwed.


      2. @Michael Leger
        My questions were genuine (though you still didn’t answer the first one – if acknowledging failures of the left as both I and the author of this blog have regularly done is your issue with the left – what more do you want? As stated, I agree with you about the far-left’s current takes on crime and to a lesser degree education).

        You say you don’t want total GOP control, but given the GOP has a lock on the state legislature via gerrymandering combined with Dem clustering in cities, if you vote for Michels that’s exactly what you’re voting for.

        You also fail to even attempt to account for how voting for the GOP right now can be justified given their repeated decade-long attack on democracy at the federal and even more-so at the state level as detailed in my previous comment – or their egregious climate change denial that trumps any other issue given how it will universally impact everyone with dire negative consequences the longer substantial action is put off. Ron Johnson is one of the worst offenders. I say this all as someone who has voted for Republicans multiple times in the past.

        Can you name an example of corruption in the Biden administration? And when has Biden threatened nuclear war? Putin is the one rattling his saber at us while simultaneously plunging it into the heart of Ukraine.

        While I also detest the cancel culture currently in fashion among the far-left, how is it any worse than that on the right that forces any candidate to publicly swallow lies about the last election and defacto fealty to a corrupt criminal like Trump? (And if they don’t, they are cast out like Liz Cheney, Kinzinger, Pete Meijer, Jaime Herrera Beutler, or Tom Rice).

        And I’m sorry, but many of your statements about COVID are flat out false. Masking does work, as demonstrated in study after study, as long as masks are actually worn and the masks are of high quality like surgical masks. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02457-y
        The COVID lockdowns, while obviously damaging in many ways, were unfortunately a necessary evil that saved tens of thousands of lives by preventing hospitals from being even more overwhelmed than many already were – though many low-risk students should have been sent back to in-person classes earlier as in MMSD. Businesses can reopen, employees who lost their jobs can find new ones (and there’s plenty of openings out there), but people however cannot be brought back from the dead.
        And Ron Johnson’s scare-tactics about the COVID vaccine based on a tiny number of cases of extremely rare negative side-effects were deeply damaging to our society by casting doubt on one of Trump’s few achievements: the shockingly effective and rapidly produced vaccines that have saved millions of lives (and could have saved more without irresponsible persons like Johnson spreading fear about them). https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2022/06/covid-19-vaccines-saved-estimated-20-million-lives-1-year


      3. Michael Leger:
        “Lockdowns had no basis in science…”
        🙂 try common sense. Do viruses travel through walls and walk up into your body even if you’re not anywhere near any infected people? … “staying away from sick people does not lessen your chance of becoming sick” ok, that’s an interesting theory….

        “Masking… they don’t work”
        Next time you go in for surgery tell the team to take off their masks because they don’t work. I myself prefer it when droplets from a sick person’s mouth do not fall directly on my face when I’m near them. Masks aren’t magic wands, but let’s use some common sense here.

        Corporate interests will produce data to show the sky is yellow if it’s in their financial interest. Sure, that cuts both ways for COVID, but geeze, the stuff the corporate right is trotting out is just so lame.

        “…which is threatening nuclear war…”
        This is a rock and a hard place situation which I think isn’t appropriate to simplify so much. I don’t want nuclear war either, and I support the idea of worldwide action to literally eliminate the possibility (something both D and R oppose). But your rationale appears to me to lead to any nuclear power being allowed to do literally anything to any non nuclear power because we can’t “threaten nuclear war”. The existence of the weapons is itself already the threat.

        “the left press in Wisconsin”
        Come on, for someone who claims to be opposed to the Military/Industrial/Pharmaceutical/Surveillance state and the shared role of D and R in it, you have to realize that there is no such thing as the left press. The US does not have a viable left. Support for Democrats is support for a moderate right – Democrats are not leftists, no matter how many times they’re called Marxists, they are nothing of the sort! This is just a good cop bad cop routine for the Military/Industrial/Pharmaceutical/Surveillance state, which you are helping with by parroting the right’s talking points.


      4. Rollie,

        I’m finding your comments somewhat incoherent. Example, you are quoting someone in your first paragraph, it is not me.

        Common sense – please explain why there was no ambiguity about the effectiveness of masking – there wasn’t any – prior to covid. Masks don’t work for viruses because, in the case of coronaviruses, they are spread by aerosol transmission. Those particles are many orders_of_magnitude smaller than the weave size of any mask. I’m sorry I don’t have the reference handy, but the effectiveness of masking in a surgical setting is much less than you think. Surgeons would need to wear respirators, which greatly impede breathing, to achieve the effectiveness you imply.

        My rationale – this is your putting words in my mouth. I do not condone Putin’s actions. However, when there’s a fire, you don’t pour gasoline on it to put it out. Biden’s statements are jet fuel. There is no diplomacy, there is only posturing.

        Left press – I agree, but you don’t answer my points, just comment on the label. You then go on to talk about Marxists, which is completely out of context.

        You also fall into the relativistic trap. Yes, everyone can produce data to support their position. This does not mean that they are accurate or truthful. Cutting through the noise of corporate shilling requires a lot of time and effort. But it can, and imo, must be done.


      5. M. Ledger, who’s incoherent? I directly quoted you, reread what you said. You’re posing as a free thinker who happened to lock step agree with Republican orthodoxy.

        Try using a strainer on a liquid suspension then don’t use one and tell me that s strainer has zero effect. Geeze Louise… “masks don’t work”…

        You’re the one who claimed there was a leftist-press, then you walk it back.


      6. Rollie:

        Quoting. I did not make this statement: “staying away from sick people does not lessen your chance of becoming sick”.

        Please address my questions – masking: dated prior to covid, refer to one high quality RCT that demonstrated that masks are effective in controlling viral outbreaks.

        Here are a few demonstrating my point, all high quality mainstream sources:

        From the CDC, May 2020. A meta-analysis of 14 RCTs “these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza”

        From the WHO, Sept 2019 ” there is no evidence that this [face masking] is effective in reducing transmission”. You have to read the paper to find that statement.

        Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov. 2020. 6000 person RCT
        “no statistically significant effect of high-quality medical face masks against SARS-CoV-2 infection in a community setting”. You have to read the paper to find the applicable data.

        Here’s one that tested your common sense statement:
        Journal of Infectious Diseases (Oxford). May 2022. They tested ‘fit-tested’ N95 and non fit-tested N95 (which are what normal people use). “Nasal swabs demonstrated high virus exposure, which was not mitigated by the surgical/fit-testFAILED N95 masks, although there was a trend for the fit-testPASSED N95 mask to reduce virus counts (P = .058)”. Note that even their best case scenario – fit-tested N95 – had a very weak result.

        You assign statements to me re: climate science I am not making. PS – CO2 is safe. Ask a tree.


      7. M. Ledger,
        And there are studies which say the opposite. I’m not a PhD in infectious disease, if you are please let us know so we can weigh your view. Or maybe you’re a Monday morning quarterback on a bar stool. You’re doing political work with this for political ends; there is a political movement to discredit the CDC experts for political reasons. While I believe they are public servants giving the best advice they can in foggy and difficult circumstances and weighing the entirety of research findings as only actual experts can, others try to discredit them. Others believe they are a New World Order cabal out to enslave the population with a vast conspiracy of purposely false advice.

        If there’s ever a time to trust the government and unite it’s during national emergencies, but all the anti-mask “patriots” are nothing of the sort, just selfish political opportunists so addicted to sticking-it-to-the-libs that they’ll go along with anything just to be contrary.

        Go find some research saying driving over the speed limit is safe, then pick up that crusade too. Just take it all the way to anarchist land – all the governments rules and laws should be individual choices. Or take up the anti-pants movement, the logic is the same.


  3. “We were a stronger, better and happier democracy when turnout was low…”

    That’s an interesting opinion, and I say that primarily to emphasize that it’s an opinion not a fact. Heck, we could just go back to only white male land owners being able to vote – as the founders intended. That is much less messy, you’re right about that. Happier too – for them at least.

    The complaints you raise have everything to do with the structure and rules of our political system and nothing to do with voter turnout. Regular people are actually pretty smart – if our system allowed us to actually have a say in this mess I think we’d be better off.

    High turnout should be our goal because people had to fight for the right to vote and voting is the first step that gives the people a chance to be in charge of our own lives. Low turnout is a sign of hopelessness. I don’t think a hopeless population is a good thing, but feel free to differ in your opinion. I know plantation owners during slavery wanted to keep a hopeless population on hand, that’s for sure. I doubt our modern-day rich and powerful feel particularly different themselves.


  4. I have to say the more eligible voters voting the better.

    Win or lose, let the people vote and speak.

    I also don’t believe Democracy is on the line as Herbert Hoover and the Republicans used the same argument against FDR back in 1932.

    Regardless of the outcome, learn from the past and recalibrate for the spring election for the State Supreme Court.

    Don’t watch Dane and MKE County although they are essential to a win. Watch Racine/Kenosha/Brown Counties and SW WI. And then there is Sauk.

    This is not an era where the the losing candidate wishes the victor well. While it was admirable it isn’t going to happen. Note: R Kleefisch’s silence has been stunning and there has been little to no notice of it. Will she and her team emerge if T Michaels goes down?

    If the Dem’s lose the Governor, Senate and AG Race, lets hope there is a consideration of bouncing most of the current Dem operatives because insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Part of the problem is too many of the consultants and staff on both sides earn six figure incomes and keep working after their candidates win or lose. The woke left echo chamber determine which candidates and their positions emerge to be viably run for election and then those that choose, continue on after the candidates they picked and the middle rejected. They keep their jobs and if there is a red wave, blame the wave, become the victims. Stay in the echo chamber, keep cashing the checks and then run a far left candidate for the State Supreme Court.

    What if D LaFollette & J Underly are the last Dem’s standing? What if it is only Underly?

    Let the people vote and speak their mind. That in itself should motivate any eligible voter to go and vote.

    Lets have the courage to face facts and remember the sun comes up every day.


    1. hear hear, that is great, better than I could do. but remember polls can and are wrong, so count the votes, and that’s no joke.


  5. yeegads,

    Your over-reliance on mainstream sources makes it very difficult to reply.

    “how voting for the GOP right now can be justified …”
    Restating my post you responded to:
    Lockdowns, non-science based health decisions, threatening nuclear war, destruction of the constitution, crime, education, inflation…..

    Climate change is a big issue for you. It is not for me. We don’t know jack about the climate. Acting as if we do is not scientific. Climate science makes rocket science look like grammar school arithmetic. We need to spend a lot of time and $$ continuing to study the climate. Asserting that the world is going to end in a few years is assinine.

    Armageddon yeegads?

    Hunter’s laptop would be a good place to start. If Republicans take over the House and Senate, the truth will likely out. I’m guessing Democrats will sacrifice Biden to continue the status quo.

    Lockdowns – please point to one high quality randomized controlled trial that demonstrated that the benefits of lockdowns exceeded the costs. Your assertion that tens of thousands of lives were saved is naked. We will be feeling the costs of lockdowns, particularly the costs to our children’s health and development, for decades.

    Vaccines – the link you shared is based on mathematical modeling. The current state of mathematical modeling of disease (and of the climate) is no better than a teenager’s masturbatory fantasies. The Imperial College’s modeling is the best example.


    1. Take a closed system, then make changes to the balance of molecules in it, then pretend there is zero effect. Yeah that’s really logical.

      Saying “we don’t really know the science of climate change” is doing the same thing. Again, use common sense. Don’t make drastic changes to a system when you don’t know what the effects will be. It’s not like you’re out here proving that CO2 is safe, all you’re doing is talking $&:* to people who are trying to figure this important problem out.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Lol, and you accuse the left of hyperbole? You’re the one using the word Armageddon, not me. You just love putting words in other people’s mouths. Climate change is and will be deeply damaging to our society, and will continue to worsen the fewer measures we enact: but it will not be Armageddon.

      “We don’t know jack about the climate.” Dear lord, and with that you lost all credibility (just like Johnson himself). Are you a climate scientist? Why don’t you ask one and get back to us.

      The sillier thing is that even if fossil fuels were fueling climate change we should still be transitioning to them post-haste given all the numerous benefits they would provide to our environment (air and water quality), public health (via lower respiratory disease cases), economy (via more local green energy jobs), and foreign policy (reducing the clout of autocrats like Putin and the Saudis). The only reason we didn’t step on the proverbial gas pedal to change decades ago for all these reasons, plus climate change, is the entrenched fossil fuel interest that back politicians like Johnson.

      The benefits and costs of lockdowns are subjective depending on whether you think saving lives was worth decreased quality of life for some people. I happen to think the former is, as I hope most people would. Regardless, here’s a study from Imperial, the very group you mention, on the efficacy of lockdowns. They found 3.1 million deaths were averted from lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic in Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-lockdowns-idUSKBN23F1G3

      It’s hilarious how you simply attempt to discredit sources by calling them “mainstream” without actually providing any legitimate critiques other than vague unsubstantiated claims that science and math can’t be trusted. A right wing staple right there. (And you wonder why the GOP largely fizzled this week?)

      And what the heck does Hunter’s laptop have to do with the quality of our society? Zero. If he committed crimes send him to court, but it’s completely irrelevant to the functioning of our government.


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