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Noam Chomsky Post-Election: We Need More Organization, Education, Activism

Anarchist Opinion

Noam Chomsky: The United States is a special case, and for me, very interesting. It's studied carefully and we know a lot about it. One of the most striking features of the elections is the class-based character of the vote. Now, class is not discussed or even measured in the United States. In fact, the word is almost obscene, except for the term "middle class." And you can't get exact class data; the census doesn't even give class data. But you can sort of see the significance of it just from income figures.

Noam Chomsky Post-Election: We Need More Organization, Education, Activism

By Keane Bhatt
Truthout
13 December 2012

Keane Bhatt: So let's start with your post-November 6 analysis. What, in your mind, have been the lessons to take away from the elections?

Noam Chomsky: The United States is a special case, and for me, very interesting. It's studied carefully and we know a lot about it. One of the most striking features of the elections is the class-based character of the vote. Now, class is not discussed or even measured in the United States. In fact, the word is almost obscene, except for the term "middle class." And you can't get exact class data; the census doesn't even give class data. But you can sort of see the significance of it just from income figures.

If you look at income levels from the lowest to the highest, as you move up, the proportion of Republican votes increases almost in a straight line. If you take voters above the median, Romney would've won by a landslide; below the median, Obama would've. Now, that understates the reality, because almost half the population doesn't vote, and they're skewed very heavily towards the lower income distributions. And studies of these people show they are overwhelmingly Democratic - in fact, social democratic. So if they had voted, the small Obama victory would've been huge.

Why didn't they vote? Well, there are things they know intuitively, which are well studied in the political science literature. One of the things it does quite well is study polling, which is very extensive. So we know a lot of what people think, and there's very good work comparing attitudes as indicated by polls with policy - and there's some pretty striking results. The sort of gold standard in this work right now is Martin Gilens' recent book, which is quite good. What he points out is that the lower 70 percent have no influence on policy, so they're essentially disenfranchised. And then as you move up higher, you get a little more influence. When you get to the very top, they essentially get what they want. Polling results aren't sharp enough for him to deal with the crucial segment of the population - the top fraction of 1 percent - which is where the real concentration of wealth is, and undoubtedly the real concentration of power. But you can't show it, because the polls aren't good enough.

Going back to why people don't vote, I presume the main reason is because they understand without reading political science texts that it doesn't make any difference how they vote. It's not going to affect policy, so why bother?

On top of that are all the various difficulties that are imposed on less privileged people to vote. We know about all that. It starts with the fact that the voting is on Tuesday. It's a workday, so you can't take off from work, and it goes on from there. So that affects it, but my guess is - I don't think it's been studied - the primary reason for not voting is just the recognition that it doesn't make any difference. Those guys up there aren't interested in me anyhow, so why should I bother?

So what you have is a highly class-based electoral system which is almost overwhelmed by the fact that in order to even participate in the election, you have to have a huge amount of money. You get that money from the pockets of wealth, the corporate sector and wealthy individuals, so you're naturally indebted to them.

There's another very striking fact about the elections which you can't miss if you looked at the red-and-blue electoral map the next day: it's the same political landscape that you saw during the Civil War - nothing much has changed except the party names. In the 1960s, civil rights legislation was coming along, and Nixon recognized the Southern strategy would work - that combination means that the Republicans and Democrats shifted names, but other than that, it's the same distinction. And that tells you something pretty important about American politics.

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