Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Reader Question of the Week: Poll Position

Here is the question we put before readers several weeks ago:

M.M.M. in Oakland, CA, asks: My kids (18 and 17) are voting in California for the first time this year. It's really difficult to get them to sit down and engage, my 17-year-old basically is not interested at all.

I have explained that for much of history, the people were led by self-appointed leaders. America flipped that around to allow the people to decide the leaders. And in order for that to work, we have to decide again every few years. Voting is the people's power to decide who leads them.

I also suggested to skip an item if they have no knowledge of the item, and that returning an empty ballot is better than not turning one in at all.

What else would you tell my kids to understand the importance of voting to help compel them to vote?

And here some of the answers we got in response:

D.S. in Newark, OH: I would like to quote my late mother: "You should vote no matter what, even if you vote wrong."

It should be noted my mother was a Republican before 1960 she changed her politics an voted for John Kennedy in 1960 because she said "Richard Nixon is a crook."

O.Z.H., Dubai, UAE: I think the answer, with all due respect, is obvious. Especially when talking to younger voters. It's climate change. Tell them that the GOP is the only major political party in any developed country that essentially denies climate change. Tell them that if global warming is not reined in, they (or at least their children) face a dystopian future. Tell them that humanity is running out of time to get serious about this issue and the Democrats are the only party in the US that is taking it seriously. I despise fearmongering as a means to drum up votes, but this is not a made up issue—it is all too real.

J.W. in Los Angeles, CA: The Constitution conveys extraordinary rights to the People of the United States, rights that were not guaranteed at the time the Constitution was created, which are not common even today in many parts of the world, and which are threatened by Donald Trump, the MAGA zealots, and cowardly Republicans appeasing them. In return, the Constitution asks two things of the People: vote and be counted in the decennial census. That is extraordinary.

M.M. in San Diego, CA: Please remind your newbie voters that the five minutes it takes to fill out a ballot (which is mailed to them without having to request it, with the postage prepaid) is a tiny price for all the benefits our government provides us. It's the duty and privilege of every citizen, and it's not in the least onerous. It's also a first step towards becoming an adult.

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA: I'm always a bit baffled by the statistics on young voters because I remember when I turned 18, I was amped up to vote in my first election even though it was a midterm.

The only explanation I have for my enthusiasm was that my dad not only talked to me about politics, but he brought me along, as he was very involved. While my dad was and remains a dyed-in-the-wool Republican while today I'm as far left as they come, he was deeply involved in state and local politics and always brought me along. He brought me along to put up signs, he took me to precinct caucuses, and he even took me to the 1998 Minnesota Republican State Convention to support Norm Coleman and then kept me up late to watch with horror as Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota.

That is to say, while my dad did not successfully raise me as a Republican, he raised me to be a person what cared deeply about the process. If there's still time, bring your kids to see democracy in action, show them that there are people out there who care deeply about it not just in word but in deed.

S.R. in Santa Clara, CA: Like M.M.M. in the nickel dime, I too have teenagers voting in California. One huge advantage Californians have is mail-in voting. Imagine you can take a quiz that determines the function of government instead of giving you a letter grade. Now imagine you can have the quiz mailed to you weeks before it's due. You can search every ballot measure, read about the people involved, and decide for yourself how you feel about each one of the multiple choice questions provided, and turn the test in anytime before it's due without waiting in line. Getting people interested in participatory democracy often starts with finding an issue that resonates with the individual. Democracy is not a spectator sport; it's just reported on like one.

M.G. in Boulder, CO: If one or both of your children are young women, rent the movie Iron Jawed Angels. One of my students saw it first and brought a copy to class. Her classmates loved it. Most people know at least the names of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; many fewer know about Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Inez Milholland and the last part of the movement that gave women the right to vote. Paul and Burns were jailed and force-fed and Milholland collapsed while speaking for the cause. She had gone against medical advice to complete a speaking tour, though she had pernicious anemia, and died at 30. My students identified so strongly that they objected to a scene of Alice Paul bathing, saying, "That's personal"—they felt her privacy should have been respected. Two major characters are fictional: Paul's love interest represents the life she gave up to fight for the vote, and the congressman's wife represents other women and the challenges they met for the same cause. Since most of the lead characters are young, it's easy for young could-be-voters to identify with them.

C.R. in St. Louis, MO: I have found that a constant dialog on what government does has engaged my rather normal teens. For my two oldest children, this will be their first presidential election. For many years I have talked about the effect of regulations and changes affected by both parties. I have talked with them about the potential personal and macro impact of proposed laws by both sides. They didn't get the overall feel that their vote matters in a single dose. They've had to listen to their parents talking about the news and to NPR, Hardcore History, and MarketWatch podcasts in the car for years. (Sorry, kids, for the 6-hour Dan Carlin podcast on World War I driving to New Orleans.)

They both intend to vote in November. I know which non-orange person they will vote for but I suspect their positions on a few other matters may be different from mine.

A.J. in Mountain View, CA: I have two children who are a little older (25 and 21) than those of M.M.M. in Oakland. They are somewhat inconsistent voters but were both very fired up to vote against TFG in the 2020 election (the younger one in spirit, since she was 17 at the time), and I expect that they will be similarly engaged in 2024. I don't think that a historical perspective, like the one that M.M.M. reported giving to their kids, would have been that motivating for my daughters, either.

What does seem to get them going is the collective GenZ resentment against Baby Boomers and older, whom they blame for the current state of the economy and environment, as well as for their hopelessly outdated views on LGBTQ issues. M.M.M. might consider leveraging this resentment by portraying voting as the only realistic way to oppose the direction that the Boomers and conservatives are taking the country in. This video might be useful to show them.

R.M. in Glendale, CA: Kids age 17 and 18 might be interested in whether abortion is legal or not. They may soon get pregnant accidentally, or get someone pregnant accidentally. A talk along these lines would also open the door to talking about condoms and safe sex, so this approach could be a win on two fronts!

J.D. in Greensboro, NC: Voting is power. Want your complaints to be ignored? By all means, think that civic involvement is a waste of time.

S.R. in Auburn, CA: Non voters might not care about some issues because they don't understand them and so might be afraid to make a mistake. As a high school teacher, I found that always opened their eyes.

At first glance, this site looks like a magazine quiz, but it offers layers of background information on a wide variety of key issues. You can dive down a lot of rabbit holes. :)

One of the surprising results in my classroom (I'm now retired) was that students who thought they were Republican almost always changed their minds and voted Democratic after getting a better understanding of the issues.

J.B. in Hutto, TX: As an 8th grade Social Studies teacher, I see it as part of my job to persuade my students of the importance of voting. There are two things that I emphasize over and over. First, something like a million American men and women have died in our nation's wars, fighting for the right of American citizens to enjoy free government. Granted, not all these wars were wise and not all of them were just, but that should not diminish the sacrifice these brave Americans made. Second, most of the world's population does not live under a fully democratic government and either has no right to vote whatsoever or can only vote under dubious and restricted circumstances and under the threat of violence.

Not voting is an insult to the memory of American soldiers who died for our freedom and an insult to the billions of people around the world who do not enjoy the rights and liberties that we, as Americans, take for granted.

P.L.B. in Catonsville, MD: While learning civics as a teen boy scout, I received a handout listing our rights and duties as citizens (or privileges and obligations, if you prefer). Each right had a corresponding duty in the opposite column. For example, we have rights "to a trial by jury" and "to receive government services," but that also means we have a duty "to serve as a juror" and "to pay taxes." I was immediately struck by the final item on the list, the only one listed in each column, the only one listed as both a right and a duty, the privilege and obligation "to vote."

If American democracy dies, I believe it will not be because autocracy is voted in but because the populace is too apathetic to keep it out. Our rights will remain only if we continue to perform our duties, and foremost among those is voting. This is what I told my daughter, at least, after she did not register to vote when getting her driver's license. She changed her mind and voted for the first time in this year's primaries. I don't know if it is because of what I said, but it is what I would say to any citizen, young or old, who is on the fence about voting.

C.L. in Glendale, AZ: Here's the advice I gave my (then) 23-year-old son about the importance of voting; I thought it might amuse you both to find yourselves cited in my attempt at fatherly wisdom.

Hi Rob,

After the conversation we had last night, I thought that this was really timely. One of my favorite websites,, is authored by a couple of PhDs, a history professor at UCLA and a computer scientist/statistician from the Netherlands. On Sundays, they publish readers' letters, some of which they respond to. Today, they replied to a reader who pointed out that "most Americans simply don't care about politics." (Sound familiar?) Here's what they wrote:
We have no doubt that most people don't follow politics like readers of this site. But we lament the fact that they don't realize that politics has real consequences for them:
  • How much tax do I pay and where does the money go? What difference does it make?
  • Private health insurance or government health care? Doesn't matter to me.
  • If there is a pandemic or an economic crisis, maybe the government will deal with it, maybe it won't. No skin off my back.
  • If the government wants to increase either defense spending or education spending, who cares which one they choose?
  • Maybe we'll keep Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Maybe we'll abolish them. I couldn't care less either way.
  • Who cares if the minimum wage is $7.25/hr. or $15/hr.?
The list goes on. We guess our view is, if you don't vote, then don't whine later.
So, yeah, it's personal preference whether someone finds the political process interesting. But once every four years (at least), I think it's in one's own self-interest to figure out which of the viable candidates comes closest to their point of view on the issue(s) of importance to them, and vote for them.

It was nice seeing you last night. Have a good week!

Here is the question for next week:

L.M.S. in Harbin, China, asks: Congratulations on the 20th aniversary. I tried to think of one word to describe the writing style of your site—humorous but still critical. I am wavering between "witty," "snarky," and "slick"... but it just didn't occur to me.

Submit your answers to, preferably with subject line "El Word"!

The movies on the handout, left to right, top to bottom, page one to page two, are: Fargo, Inglourious Basterds, Gladiator, Robin Hood, Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, Scarface, Troy, The Untouchables, The King's Speech, Tropic Thunder and Vice.

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