WeMatter.com (the book) Introduction > Problem { Government, Internet}



We citizens are seeming more and more discouraged with the actions of our Government as it seems to careen from one failed (or partially successful) policy to another. This section will discuss the problem.

  1. Evidence
    1. Low voter turnout (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) -- 50%, (Vote/Vote Age Population decreasing) in presidential election
    2. About half of the possible voters do not vote for president and that over the years the percentage seems to have been decreasing. The voter turnout in the last 2 elections, 1996, 2000, is at an all time low, e.g. slightly less than 50% of those who were of voting age voted. Over the last 40 years this voting percentage has been higher, 51% - 63%, but though it looks as though the voting percent is decreasing, some years "buck" the trend with higher percentages than the previous years.

      Since about 50% of the people who voted did vote for each party, this 50% lack of voting can be looked at in many ways.

      • 75% of the available voters did not vote against the winning party, president, or policies.
      • 25% of the available voters voted affirmatively for the winning party, president, or policies.


      Of course people can influence the government through other actions, Contributions, Letters, Participation, etc. but one might suspect that if a person is willing to perform these actions, that they would vote, (TBD), and that the percent of people who are active in influencing government is well below those who vote (TBD).

      If this voting population felt that their vote would have an effect on the election outcome and that the outcome mattered, then they probably would vote, (Note: I am assuming that the nonvoter is not protesting, but just failing to vote). In addition, there are probably many who voted who feel the same, but feel it is their Civil duty to vote even if it is not effective. Thus the low voting percentage indicates that the people do not feel that they are able to make a significant effect on the government through the vote.

      One can suspect that there are a few general reasons that the population does not vote more, these may be either that the voting system is "broken" so that a vote does not count, (The Con Game Called Democracy), (Fixing Elections) and (Center for Voting and Democracy ), or that the realistic selections are so limited that the voter can not determine who is a better choice among the similar candidates, each of which will probably behave politically rather than based on principal once he or she is elected. Some of these are summarized below:

      • The elections are setup so that in local elections the incumbent is effectively unopposed.
      • The electoral college ensures that most of the states are almost surely in one camp or another so that their vote will not count.
      • The positions of the parties is similar enough, or that the candidates would not follow their positions, so that many voters feel that they would be voting between Twedeldom and Twedeldee

    3. Large campaign expense -- $1.16 Billion in the 2000 campaign

      In 2000 the president candidates received, $528,900,000 (Opensecrets), the House candidates, $406,951,033 and the Senate candidates, $224,688,011(Opensecrets) . Since there were 213,954,023, voters, this meant that the contributions were about $5.50 per voter.

    4. Concentration (and perhaps biased) news media ownership
    5. We are seeing a number of developments that seem to make it improbable that most voters will share a common "Unbiased" view of the world and then can explore various sides of the issues:

      1. The sources of news are not independant but are becomming parts of multi cooperations with multiple "profit" objectives. -- In the past it may be that the new collectors were independant companies whose profit/loss/objectivity was their own. Now they are owned by the same orgainization as owns the distributers of the news and of other non news companies. Thus their objectives are not only news collection but also the profit of the distribution agency and the non news company.
      2. The news reader/viewer... is now presented by a wide veriety of sources. This may be good in that there are more to choose from, but it also caused problems in that it reduces the possibility of a shared, comminly accepted society "truth" and so various groups are able to get their "slant" on the news rather than discussing the shared view. see:
        1. Objective reporting is getting harder to come by as media outlets increasingly lean to the left or right (Newsday.com -- BY NOEL HOLSTON - STAFF WRITER: August 15, 2004)
        2. Republic.com by Cass Sunstein (Princeton University Press; March 25, 2002) -- The center does not hold. The rise of customizable media has mainstream thinkers, used to a near-monopoly on attention, running scared. Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein makes the case for a more robust information diet from a slightly left of center point of view in Republic.com.
    6. Incumbent districting and privilege

      In 2000, of the 34 senate elections, 29 incumbent Senators were running :23 of which were reelected, 6 defeated, and there were 5 non-incombent elections.(Ref)


    1. Lack of knowledge of challenger position
    2. Lack of interest in E-mail and out of district comments (Even on bills that are nation wide)
  2. Results
    1. Large number of pork barrel bills
    2. Special interest loopholes
    3. NRO -- Non Representative Organizations, e.g. FCC, that make policy without being elected.
    4. Crises government

  3. US Government as a Commons

One way of thinking about the situation is to consider that the US Government should be a "commons" as discussed in Silent Theft. PP 183-187. The author lists the following as some of the compelling features of the commons:

    1. Openness and Feedback
    2. Collective Decision-Making
    3. Diversity within the Commons
    4. Social Equity within the Commons
    5. Environmental Sustainability
    6. Sociability in the Commons: The Gift Economy

These features are those that we citizens believe our government should have and that what has happened is that various parts of the government have been "fenced off, enclosed" by special interest groups, corporations, etc. so that it no longer reflects a commons but more a set of privately owned market agencies.


Internet site

There have been a number of attempts to use the Internet to help solve these problems, and WeMatter.com is yet another one. The previous sites have suffered from a number of problems of their own, and thus been ineffective. The problems with these sites are:

  1. Specific Issue -- Most of the sites are designed to deal with one specific issue set. This means that, as a maximum, only the people who are specifically interested in the issue will visit..
  2. Specific Position -- Even worse most of the sites take one position on the issue (set). Thus even if a person is interested in the issue, they will not continue to visit the site as they really do not learn anything new.
  3. Multiple, un linked sites -- There are a large number of Political sites interested in an issue, but in general there seems to be little cross linkage, and no attempt to divide the work between the sites, lists, etc. Thus if a user is interested in an issue, it is his problem to find all the sites, editorial writers, etc. that are involved, and either spread his time over all of them or determine that there are a few that seem to be leaders in the field and ignore the rest.
  4. Ineffective Petition -- Often the sites do host a petition, but as the petition only has one position, only the people who visit the site will sign it, and there is no way to prevent "Spam" signers, e.g. have one person sign it multiple times, it is assumed that there is little effect for signing it.
  5. No Feedback -- Many of the sites do state their position, but there is very little feedback to anyone who tries to interact with the site. Some of them may say "Thanks" for the contribution, but little else.
  6. Ineffective or no Discussion forum -- Many of the sites don't have a Discussion Group, User interactive mailing list, associated with their issues, and even those that do, don't moderate them so that there is a capability to develop policies. The user is given the sites position, but does not get interaction to see how his contribution is useful to the other users or the site managers
  7. Little Government interactions -- The sites may sue the government, or send petitions, but there seems to be no response from the government representatives as to how it feels about the positions taken, no attempt to set up chat groups with government officials, etc.
  8. No historical record of representative positions -- There are some representatives, and parties that have strong positions on the issues that a site is interested in. On the other hand, the sites do not list the positions of the representatives or parties so that the users could inform their representatives or parties that as voters they expect to have their representatives consider their position.


Back-room dealing a Capitol trend -- GOP flexing its majority power, By Susan Milligan, Boston Globe, Oct. 3, 2004

Problems with Democratic Party

Looking Back, Looking Forward A Forum, Dec. 20, 2004 issue in Nation

There Are No Trial Balloons, Mark Schmitt on Dec. 7, 2004

Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom About Ohio, Dec. 5, 2004 in "Emerging Democratic Majority Blog"

Note: This book is a detailed discussion of these problems and a proposal for the development of a political hub site that tries to solve these problems.

December 8, 2004 15:45