For many years, I have experienced a familiar ritual upon meeting someone new, whether a neighbor, a local shopkeeper, or a friend of a friend.
Two questions inevitably arise: What do you do for a living? I’m a writer. What do you write about? Politics.
Ohhhh. That response is often followed by something like Hmmm or Really? Many times, a familiar refrain comes quickly: I hate politics.
Chuck Moss, a former state representative from Birmingham, refers to these interactions as those awkward moments when self-proclaimed “political junkies” cross paths with everyday people. In an entertaining column written for Dome Magazine, Moss declares that those who love politics – and live within the political bubble — rarely associate with those he calls the Normals.
“Political people and Normals don’t interact all that much,” he wrote. “When they do, political people want to talk about … well, politics. This either makes Normal people’s eyes glaze over or gets them mad.”
In 2014, long-forgotten research conducted by a polling firm for the National Journal – in the pre-Trump era – found that just 1 percent of Americans engaged in several political or community activities. The surveys tried to measure 10 “bedrock activities of American civic and political life,” ranging from charitable and grassroots projects to working on a political campaign or donating to candidates and political causes. Some activities in the middle, such as attending a local town hall meeting, were also part of the mix.
The researchers learned that, individually, many of these 10 means of engagement are popular. For example, 65 percent of Americans said that they volunteer in their community very often or somewhat often. But the National Journal reported that very few seem to have the time or inclination for broad civic participation. Just 12 percent of Americans engaged in more than three activities “very often,” an indication that for most Americans, civic and political engagement—other than voting in elections—is occasional and narrow in scope.
It should also be noted that polls along these lines, where respondents are essentially asked to declare themselves a “good person,” also typically produce exaggerated numbers.
Sometimes the idea that these inactive Normals represent such a large majority of the populace roils those who I would call the Politicos, and invokes an elitist superiority complex among their critics.
Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson wrote on Sunday that, as a teenager and young adult, as a full-fledged Politico, he “resented those who went to their polling places lacking even the most rudimentary knowledge about the candidates vying for their favor.”
Dickerson, now a 40-year veteran of political journalism explained that he has cast aside his judgmental views while he announced that the Free Press editorial pages will devote considerable print over the next three months trying to convince casual voters that August primary voting represents the most important election of the 2018 cycle. This journalistic effort by the Freep seeks to get the vast majority of voters who demonstrate no interest in primary elections to show up at the polls in August.
Kudos to Dickerson for reaching that higher plain of faith in the electorate. I have never managed to crawl above those rocks, based mostly on my 30-plus years of interviewing shockingly ignorant voters at polling places.
In 2016, numerous polls revealed a spike in political interests among Democrats and Republicans as the contentious presidential campaign reached its crescendo, with the two most unpopular White House candidates in modern history squaring off. The voters’ old phrase about choosing between “the lesser of two evils” seemed entirely inadequate throughout the turmoil of the presidential election year.
Since then, some surveys show that the raw feelings of 2016 are ebbing, reflecting a dystopian view reflected in the number of social media obsessive-compulsive participants contemplating about quitting Facebook – that uncomfortable bastion of cyberspace where fake news and conspiracy theories and all forms of hyper-partisan messaging is thrust forward – daily, hourly, minute-by-minute – by political trolls and monsters and miscreants.
So, let’s take a step back. Moss argues that the Normals are busy with yard work or kids’ soccer games or school plays while the activist Politicos are spending sunny weekends knocking door-to-door or engaging in strategic precinct delegate recruiting.
Moss, a Republican and a former Oakland County commissioner, offers this summary of his post-politician views:
It’s not that Normals are stupid, ignorant, or don’t have political opinions. Far from it! It’s just that these things aren’t of great interest to them outside of elections they care about. A certain amount of Normals are Democrats, and some are Republicans. Many are Independent. Most of them will listen to arguments that make sense, from people that show respect and seem trustworthy. Try to fool them once, ever, and you’re dead forever. Political people and Normal people live in different worlds. When political people want to know what Normals think, they take opinion polls.
Another thing Normals aren’t is extreme. Extremism, either in opinions or manner, is the kiss of death. They’re neither Socialists nor Libertarians. Neither major political party really connects with Normals. The Democrats are currently the Anti-Normal Party. Republicans say they value Normals, but their idea of Normals seems 50 years out of date.
So: 2016? Hillary Clinton clearly and openly hates Normals. Donald Trump is as un-Normal as they come, but he seemed to be aware of what Normals need and promised to do something about it.
Overall, I would say, well done, Mr. Moss. Although I would remind him that moss grows on trees. And typical suburbanite Normals may be spending too much time tending to their trees and landscaping and not enough time worrying about the shape of their political landscape.