Persuasion vs. Suppression: Yes, There’s a Difference


Thomas Edsall says that President Obama is trying to boost turnout among liberals this November, and at the same time trying to “suppress turnout” among groups less likely to support him. Ed Kilgore slaps down this choice of words:

Even if you buy Edsall’s assumption that the Obama campaign’s anti-Romney ads are designed to convince non-college educated white voters who won’t support the incumbent to give Romney a pass as well, it is fundamentally wrong to treat such efforts as equivalent to utilizing the power of government to bar voters from the polls altogether. Voters hypothetically convinced by the Obama ads to “stay home” in the presidential contest are perfectly free to skip that ballot line and vote their preferences for other offices, just as they are perfectly free to ignore both presidential campaigns’ attack ads and make a “hard choice” between two candidates they aren’t crazy about. Lumping negative ads together with voter disenfrancisement under the rubric of “vote suppression” legitimizes the latter as a campaign tactic rather than what it actually is: an assault on the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.

Hoo boy. Rarely have I agreed more with somebody. Running a campaign of persuasion, whether to vote for you or to not bother voting for the other guy, is just that: a campaign. It’s what politicians do. In no way is this voter suppression or anything close to it.

Maybe this was just a poor choice of words on Edsall’s part. But the Republican voter ID assault, which is pretty plainly meant not to persuade, but to prevent the usual level of turnout among traditionally liberal-leaning voters, is a whole different animal. That’s voter suppression.

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