The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is an extremely well regarded political polling and public policy organization. PPIC focuses solely on California politics and public policy, and it does a lot of demographic analysis as it explores key issues. PPIC also keeps track of the "mood of the voters" through its sophisticated and consistent polling. PPIC holds invitation only conferences, and explores political issues through both its polling work, and policy reports.
Most recently, PPIC has released an "At Issue" memo titled Improving California's Democracy. The memo is only 14 pages long, and it is certainly worth reading. PPIC finds that Californians of all political stripes are ever more suspicious of political parties, that they are "disgruntled," and that they tend to place more trust in local officials than in state and federal government. PPIC also notes that the voters put substantial faith in the initiative process, since the initiative process lets the voters themselves decide on key issues.
In summary, the PPIC memo says that California's democracy "depends on engaged and well-informed voters," and makes several recommendations:
My personal reaction to these suggestions is more or less along the lines of: "Duh! Of course all those things would be good." However, while these are fine statements of intention, it seems to me that they are all "easier said than done." The PPIC report consistently says that "we" need to do this (or that) to improve California's political and public policy process. Just who is that "we" that is going to do these things?
- Engage emerging groups
- Bridge the knowledge gap; and
- Increase transparency in the initiative process.
In a genuine democracy, in which ordinary people are in fact "engaged," the voters themselves will do what needs to be done. Emerging groups will get involved. Concerned voters will educate themselves, and they will insist that the process that seems to be the one they care about most, the initiative process, is clear and understandable. The PPIC memo seems to have some "we," other than the voters themselves, in mind. That's not going to work.
I don't think there is any shortcut to direct voter involvement in politics. If we want self-government, we have to get involved ourselves. No experts or think tank writers can galvanize the political process. That has got to come from the people, and to get the people organized and engaged the famous "KISS" principle is a requirement.
I think people are baffled by the apparent complexities, and that our politics needs to be simple. When it comes to public policy and politics, if there isn't a "simple" answer, then there isn't an answer at all.
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