“There are two good things about Tuesday, in my opinion. One is that the worst didn’t happen. It came close. And the second is that it’s over. For one thing I can stop getting annoying phone calls. But more significantly, it means that activists can go back to what they should always be doing.
As far as the election is concerned the right attitude towards it in my opinion was to take about 5 minutes to think about what to do and then forget about it and go back to what has to be done. And what has to be done – you all know – is to work to change the conditions that allow extravaganzas like this to go on. And insofar as there are elections, make them meaningful. But meanwhile change the society so that it really does work for the people. As we just heard that’s a big task.
Now there are a couple of interesting observations about the election. Some have been discussed. Some not much. There were, I think, some good things. So personally at least I’m glad that Elizabeth Warren got in. I think that could be very helpful. … [Also s]ome unpleasant things. One of them which didn’t get a lot of publicity is a referendum in Michigan which was voted down overwhelmingly. It was a referendum guaranteeing the right of collective bargaining, that is, guaranteeing the right of workers to organize. The fact that that was defeated and defeated substantially is a kind of illustration of the work people like us have to do. It’s a reflection of the extreme effectiveness of the huge propaganda campaign against working people. That’s been going on for a long time but has really peaked substantially in the last couple years and it’s basically bipartisan. And it has reached the working class, substantially, which is a very dangerous phenomenon. And that goes to something else that is barely discussed.
One of the most important things about the election, I think, is what didn’t happen. What didn’t happen is that almost half the population didn’t even bother to vote. Now if you look at the correlation between voting and income, you find it’s extremely close. So what that means is that roughly the lower half of the income level didn’t bother to vote. Those people have been carefully studied. Their attitudes are social democratic. If they were to vote, overwhelmingly they would vote democratic, by probably a factor of maybe 3-to-1 or something like that. Their votes, if they did effect policy, would change the country significantly.
So the question is why they didn’t vote. Well, a lot of possible reasons. One reason is just that the contemporary version of the old poll tax, which goes back to the constitution, was enough to inhibit lots of people without resources from voting. You’ve read about all the efforts that have been made by the republican party to prevent voting – for quite good reasons: they know who they’re gonna vote for. And surely that had some kind of effect. But my guess is that a bigger effect came from something that people intuitively understand even if they don’t know the data. The topics have been quite well studied in academic political science, with a lot of work on public attitudes and public policy and the relation between them. And it turns out that about 70% of the population, the lower 70% on the income level, have no influence at all on policy. So it doesn’t matter what they think. So they’re effectively disenfranchised. And if you move up the income/wealth level you get more influence on policy. And when you get to the very top, the 1% in the imagery of the Occupy movement, more accurately the one tenth of one percent where the real concentration of wealth is, they essentially get what they want. And even if people haven’t read the academic studies they know it in their bones. And I presume that that’s a major reason why almost half the population doesn’t even try to participate, knowing that it’s not gonna make any difference what they think anyway. Well that’s another major task that has to be addressed. They’re not wrong, incidentally, but we have to change the conditions in which they’re right. And that’s no small task. …”
Some of Noam Chomsky’s comments on the election, recorded at a benefit for Encuentro 5 at the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 8th, 2012. Vijay Prashad and Sam Christiansen also spoke. This is part 1. See also: part 2.