When I talk to people about the threat rising economic inequality poses to the consumer economy, I am often told that the problem is participation. The story goes that disadvantaged groups have lower turnout, and because of this their interests are underrepresented. Bernie Sanders plans to win support for his egalitarian agenda through a “political revolution”, but all he means by that phrase is exceptionally high voter turnout:
…if Bernie Sanders becomes President of the United States, it will mean that there will be a huge increase in voter turnout. If there is a huge increase in voter turnout, our Republican colleagues may not be running the Senate or the House. So my life will be made a little bit easier. As I mentioned earlier, Louise, Republicans do well when people don’t vote. For me to get elected, we’re going to have to have a huge increase in voter turnout, and that will carry in a lot of other people in the Congress and Senate
The turnout story is especially popular among left wingers in the United States, because the US has unusually low voter turnout for a rich democracy. But the refrain is heard abroad as well–left wingers in Britain think that Jeremy Corbyn can win by raising turnout. There are right wingers who make similar arguments–Ted Cruz claims that republicans lost in 2012 because of low voter turnout among evangelical Christians. It’s a seductive argument, because we all like to believe that our own beliefs are common sense and that there’s a silent majority out there who agree with us. Unfortunately for all those who make turnout arguments, the data indicates that they are bunk.