PANIC TIME!


Fair Warning:  The following is about the ups & downs of “third” parties in California.  If that’s not your thing, click over to my Link Collection for general education and entertainment.  I’m always adding stuff there.

My alert readers (both of them) will recall one of the evil effects of Prop 14:  that it eliminates one of two ways for a small political party to keep its access to the ballot.  We now, effectively, have only one:  to maintain a number of registrants above 1% of the number of voters that voted in the last gubernatorial election.  That’s currently a number a touch above 100,000.

Green registration in California, at last report, was about 113,000 and has been slowly dropping for the last few years.  This is a cause for concern.  To some people, it might seem to be a “Drop everything!  There is NO OTHER PARTY BUSINESS!” concern.  I’ll try to put it in perspective, for any noobs out there.  Vets are welcome to comment on anything I’m missing here, of course.

The last thing I would try to discourage anyone from is hitting the street to get some new Greens registered.  No organizing or authorization of any kind is required, just a person with some time.  There’s no need for Greens to even talk to each other about this much.  They just have to do it.  I’ve written about this before.

BushObamawarending It also might help to hit up
any friends you have who thought it was so all-frakking-important to vote for Obama or Kucinich or whatever in long-ago primaries to COME HOME, ALREADY and register in the only way that sends a message with your registration.

I would, however, question any panic reaction.  10-15% isn’t what I’d call a comfortable margin, but it’s not dangling off a cliff with the villain stomping on your hands, either.

To give you a broad overview, here’s a table of Green registration in California, with some prominent events marked on it in a timelineish way.  Click on it to view it larger.  It only goes back to 1999 because that’s what was obviously available on the Secretary of State’s site, and I was too lazy to look up earlier numbers.  You see a slow decline in Green registration since our peak in 2003.

GreenRegNumbersJust to get this out of the way, there are three other “third” parties in California that are in worse trouble:

newpartystrategyAmericans Elect – Qualified for the last primary by petition, not registration.  They have a negligible number of registrants, as this party was negligible from the start.  It was a silly idea, period.

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libertarianoceansmallLibertarian – Hovering much closer to the cutoff number than the Greens.  But they have money.  They’ll probably pull through with some well-paid registration drive.  Only guessing here, though.  I don’t keep up on what they’re doing.  If they WERE to drop off the registration forms, I’d expect a few refugees to go Green.  Don’t laugh.  Most of their registrants (as with most of ANY party’s registrants) have vague ideas at best of what the party stands for.

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Peace & Freedom – The Cool Hand Luke of political parties (“keeps comin’ back with nuthin’”).  We got quite a few refugees from them when they dropped off the ballot in 1998.  If they do so again, it could gain us some.  They are far below the required number of registrants.
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Let’s look at that handy-dandy table & timeline I gave you, hit a couple of high spots that stand out, and I’ll draw some conclusions that have all the authority of being pulled directly out of my…sleeve.
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First off, the two periods of fastest growth in our numbers were during the Nader 2000 campaign and the 2003 recall election, when Camejo actually appeared in a tv debate.

Conclusion:  There’s nothing like being talked about in the mass media, for good or ill, and being treated like a somewhat serious player.  No surprise there.

Our period of fastest decline was 2007-2008, a time when Obama was talking like a real “progressive”, and looking like a serious “real Democrat” as opposed to Clinton’s “triangulation”.

This is one of those facts we’ve been living with for decades now:  Whenever it looks to some people like they can make a difference with their vote in the Dem presidential primary, they go register Dem or DTS so they can do so.  It’s not a huge part of our disgustedsighregistrants; maybe only 10 or 15 percent, but when we’re hovering just above the cutoff for ballot access it means something.

Conclusion:  Some people will keep on going back to the abusive spouse no matter what.  Maybe a counselor can advise us about breaking this cycle.

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Let’s look at the whole period chronologically now.

My evidence that we gained refugees from Peace & Freedom when they lost ballot access and no longer had their name printed on the registration forms is purely anecdotal.  You won’t see evidence for it in my table, probably because it was overwhelmed by other events.

The rapid-fire arousal of grassroots organizing in the late 90s, early noughties, from Seattle through the early antiwar movement, was a long surge for us. I believe our early adoption of internet communications played a part in this, giving almost-free communication to groups that had previously been hampered by lack of money just for the most basic exchange of information within a group.

Conclusion:  Take advantage of any free communication as much as possible.

BushamablameNaderThe “Blame Nader” nonsense that started after 2000 does not seem to have affected our registration numbers, and might have even helped.  This might have been an instance of “no such thing as bad publicity”.

Conclusion:  “Spoiler” propaganda might work on how people vote, but not on how they register.  Not in the short term, anyway.  This might be an instance of actual awareness on the voters’ part of how the elections work.  I’m shocked & amazed.

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The serious decline in our numbers began in 2004. Three things were working for this at the time:

(1)  Noobs who had confused Nader with the Green Party from the start lost interest or ragequit when they saw that the Party was waffling over nominating someone who didn’t want our nomination.

(2)  The ever-hopeful blue/greens got interested in the Dem primaries, since Kerry had some moth-eaten old antiwar credentials from his foolish youth, and the mirage appeared
of defeating Bush and thereby getting something, anything, different.

(3)  The following, probably related to #1, but not exactly the same thing.  Be patient.

I once did an analysis by county of our declining numbers, for the period 2003-2006.  Here are links to:

The raw numbers

Basic explanation and conclusions

…if you’re interested.  After some dialogue with other Greens in certain counties, it was apparent that a large part of the loss was simply from registrations that were “soft” to
begin with.  Let me explain.

When you’re tabling or whatever for voter registrations, college campuses are prime territory, for some obvious reasons.  They’re full of young people who just reached voting age, just moved away from home, are probably a little more politically aware than most people, etc.  Great place to get new registrations.  It’s also a great place to get registrations that will fall off the rolls within three or four years.  If they’re not constantly replaced with new soliciting, your numbers will fall back toward what they were before.  In this 2003-2006 period, we identified some hotspots of large losses that we could easily blame on campus soliciting from around 2000 that was discontinued later.

Conclusion:  For soliciting to make a difference in registration numbers, it must be sustained.  There is no such thing as “finished the job”.

Notice that Roseanne’s announcement of her candidacy shows no effect on our numbers.  This would generally contradict the notion that ANY publicity is good, but the impression she gave in the media might have been just a little too comical.

Our numbers might have actually picked up a little due to Stein’s nomination and the subsequent campaign, or that little jump could just be statistical noise.

ItmaybenothingsmallAlso likely to be statistical noise is the slight drop in absolute numbers that might happen (in the absence of strong influences) in the February odd-numbered year report, which often includes results of a lot of roll-cleaning.  Small parties are likely to show a bit more drop from roll-cleaning because of #3 cited above, but it’s usually not a big deal by itself.

Y’all are welcome to point out any historical events I’ve forgotten in that chart, of course.  I’m not aware of everything going on in the state at all times, to say the least.  I suspect that there were candidate campaigns that came and went, influencing these numbers.  There are some things I’m pretty sure of, though, from what I’ve seen:

(1)  As good as it is to have people hitting the street soliciting registrations, my own county has had little of this over the years. Certainly such activities do not account for the jumps of 30-40% that occurred in 2000-2003.  Without any strong registration drives, my county followed roughly the same pattern as the state overall in registration stats. I therefore conclude that the “air war” of broad attention in the media is far more important for getting people to register with one party versus another.

outofnewsrichcatsmall(2)  The msm really learned their lesson after Nader 2000 and Camejo 2003.  Never again will they give a “third” party free publicity in ways that they control easily.  Ever since the last gasp of “spoiler” talk in 2004 died out, mentions of “third” parties on tv have been scarcer than hand-written letters or news anchors who know what they’re talking about.

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(3)  Wherever possible, free noise on the internet should be tried for, as I pointed out long ago.  It’s the mass medium that is least controlled by our rulers, which we can’t afford not to use to the max.

It’s a whole, lengthy subject in itself, and I’m really not the answer guy on this, but I’ll restate the obvious here anyway:

freespeechpermitThe internet is likely to make as big a change in our society as the printing press did centuries ago, and we’ve only seen the beginning of it.

A little more of the obvious:

As soon as our rulers notice something influential, they take control of it if they can.  They nearly always can.  It usually takes only money to do so.  If you try to solicit in the town square, they privatize the town square.  They can buy up all the major media.  If you actually prove to be effective with a popular web site or twitter feed, they have dozens of ways to pressure you or your host.

internetyourguidesmallThere’s something special about the internet, though.  Its anarchic nature is its attraction.  It would be useless if content were too restricted.  So they can kill it if they want to, but they can’t control it all.  Killing it doesn’t seem like a real option, since it’s very useful for banking, selling, and all those things our rulers love.

They can, however, identify certain hosts, certain applications, where rebellion might be beginning, and shut them down.  The answer is to keep moving, and keep it simple, so it’s easy to move.  Don’t get tied to one host, such as Facebook or Twitter, and keep what’s worth preserving on your own computer, and backed up.  Dependence on someone else’s server or software means you’ll lose it.

And don’t follow fashion.  Make your own fashion.  This will involve a lot more misses than hits, of course, as I’ve observed about genetic mutation and innovation in language.  For an analogy, let me take you back to pre-2007.  Remember how the crescendo of “reality” shows along the lines of Flip that house, plus general house porn, reached a peak just before the housing bubble burst?  Remember when it seemed like half the people you knew had a real estate license, almost as a fashion accessory?  My crystal ball (pulled directly out of my… sleeve) says that Facebook and Twitter are approaching that point.  If everyone’s doing it, that’s not the thing to invest your time in.  So what is?  The crystal ball is foggy there.

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7 Responses to PANIC TIME!

  1. Not from California, but I admire your command of the history and significance of this third party issue. So many problems with our party system. Makes me think of the song: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…”

    • Tian says:

      I always go back to the ten key values. They were designed to work for sustainable movement work. Things like “decentralization”, “ecological wisdom”, and “future focus”. For the green party to succeed long term, I think being the political voice of those values will be enough. We just have to tie the movement to the political system in ways that make sense from a “think globally, act locally” point of view. That’s why I tell people “stop voting for oil companies at the gas pump!” For registration and visibility numbers as low as they are, being the politician in your own back yard boils down to “be the media!” That’s where we shine, as you noted above. If registering Green is a political act, then we need to see living green as long series of political acts that make our civilization more sustainable and more decentralized.

  2. Jeff Lebow says:

    It is my personal opinion that our party stands the best chance to grow if we were associated with direct community service programs serving a need in the local community. These might include:
    1) voter registration
    2) cooperative business training
    3) food and nutritional programs
    4) shared housing coordination
    5) after school and child care assistance

    We know how the current situation is creating significant challenges for low and moderate income people. We, as a party, can do something beyond elections to give voters and nonvoters a reason to support us.

    • kitchenmudge says:

      The community actions you speak of are great ways to make “hard” registrations: people with a personal connection to the party, and I won’t say a word against it. But it’s a huge amount of work for the numbers it can generate in registration. One stupid viral video (maybe with a cat or puppy) with a good Green Party message could, theoretically, bump our numbers by 50,000 over night. That’s the Holy Grail that we haven’t found yet.

  3. Bert Heuer says:

    As a comment on the article: IMO, you got a little off-track at the end with the tin-foil hat stuff about ISP’s et al but it’s a nice summation and history (and I agree with a number of your conclusions). But allow me to argue that two of the comments given (Tian and Jeff) illustrate what I have always seen as a significant part of the problem with GP.

    Tian is arguing lifestyle in a political context. That just leads to judgements on lifestyle choices a.k.a. litmus tests of “green-ness”. There are plenty of people who will drive the ol’ SUV down to KFC for a bucket of clogged arteries and yet still support universal health coverage (or regulation on Wall Street, etc).

    Jeff has a legitimate point. Being associated with “good works” is probably never a bad thing, but a Green Party has, at least over the last 10 years, spent entirely too much of its strength pushing activism over elections. I would not argue the former is less important than the latter in a general context; only that the former IS less when the context is “voter registrations”. So I wonder how “associations” actually work at getting people to register and vote progressive (a.k.a. Green).

    • kitchenmudge says:

      I wasn’t talking about ISPs so much as the ability to shut someone down for “libel”, “threats”, or “copyright violations”. If you can pay enough lawyers, they can find a way. As Chomsky says, I’m not describing anything that requires a conspiracy. It’s only a set of shared values and habits among people who have power.

      I agree that “lifesyle” stuff has serious limitations.

  4. Anonymous says:

    funny cartoon ! he/pspc 4/3/13

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