Sunday, May 8, 2016

Identitarian demographic arguments have to account for non-voters

In what appears to be a continuing series documenting the pathetic grievances of American elites, The Guardian has published an article exploring the embarrassing self-pity of Harvard students who feel rightly ashamed of their support for Hillary Clinton. There's a lot to ridicule in this piece, but one point in particular caught my eye:
Koppelman...wanted to address what he sees as a double standard among some Sanders supporters – that to support Clinton is to fail to support the fight for equality. “Around the country, low income people, low income minorities are voting for Hillary in vast majorities,” Koppelman said.
See what he did here? Koppelman insists that Clinton is the candidate of the oppressed. He tries to prove this, however, by noting that she is the preference of oppressed people who vote. Those are not the same constituencies! And when we look at all poor people and all minorities, the picture looks quite different:


These trends have all been clear for months: Sanders is the candidate of the poor, and Clinton the candidate of the rich. Clinton has a significant lead among Black voters, while Sanders has a significant lead among Hispanic voters and other races.

There is a basic methodological nuance here that pundits routinely neglect. If you are making claims about voters, then you should obviously look at things like exit polls, eligible / registered / likely voters, and so on. But if you are making a claim about which candidate is drawing more support from a person of a certain identity - that is, if you are making an identitarian argument - then you have to look at everyone who belongs to that group. Otherwise you are guilty of erasure, which is a serious analytical and moral error.

This point is particularly urgent because non-voting is often a sign of significant oppression. When poor people don't vote, for example, it is often because their boss won't let them off of work, or because they don't have reliable transportation to and from the polls. When minorities don't vote, it's often because of deliberate voter suppression tactics. To ignore the plight of non-voters is to ignore a major vector of oppression in the United States - a curious move to make when claiming the high ground in the fight for equality.