Citizen Activism, Food for Thought

On Political Hobbyism

Food for thought for the 4th of July:

In his July 3, 2017, opinion letter, David Leonhardt wrote:

About a decade ago, I went on a search for swing voters. It didn’t go well. . . .

Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to find any actual swing voters. People would tell me they voted for both parties. But when I pressed them about when they had last voted for the party that they usually did not support, they’d come up blank. They had voted either for both George Bushes and Bob Dole or for John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

It was clear, however, that they liked thinking of themselves as standing apart from the two political parties.

Leonhardt cited to a recent, provocative Op-Ed piece, The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants, in which Eitan Hersh decried the rise of what he called “political hobbyism.”

Political hobbyism might not be so bad if it complemented mundane but important forms of participation. The problem is that hobbyism is replacing other forms of participation, like local organizing, supporting party organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor persuasion, even voting in midterm elections — the 2014 midterms had the lowest level of voter participation in over 70 years.

When asked for advice in response to the article, Hersh wrote, among other things:

“Join the local political party org. You don’t need to agree with everything it stands for. You can actually help shape what it stands for”. . . . Hersh concluded by saying that social change requires “committing to imperfect institutions.”

Leonhardt concluded, “He’s right. It’s easy and fashionable to decry our two highly flawed political parties. It also does relatively little good.”