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Can Shame and Surveillance Get Democrats To The Polls?

By Allen McDuffee |

Voters can hardly be blamed for their eyes glazing over with the relentless bombardment of political advertising in the weeks leading up to an election. 

But one mailer that some recipients say shames them and makes them feel like they're under surveillance stands out. 

From their Midtown Manhattan offices, the New York State Democratic Committee is sending registered voters in the state what it's calling a "Voter Report Card," grading them on their level of participation in recent elections with the intention of goading them into showing up to the polls for Tuesday's midterm elections. Voters receive a grade of Excellent, Good or Fair, depending on how often they've cast a ballot in the last four general elections. 

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

If that doesn't sound so bad, the other side of the postcard lets addressees know the NYSDC is tracking their participation. "Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you voted is public record. . . .We plan to update this voter report card after the upcoming election and will be interested to see whether or not you voted," the card reads.  

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

The very next day, some registered voters received a follow-up letter in the mail from the NYSDC taking it up a notch, suggesting that the recipient keep an eye on his or her neighbors and further indicating that the party will contact them if they don't vote Tuesday. 

"Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed in the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors," the letter read. "We will be reviewing the Kings County official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not." 

(Allen McDuffee)

(Allen McDuffee)

A similar scheme has been employed by outside groups, such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. But it's one thing to be a pressure group using scare tactics that everyone expects you to use and an entirely different thing to be an official party that says it's above such manipulation doing it. 

The tactic employed by Democrats isn't unique to New York. It appears to be part of a larger party-wide campaign that has surfaced in Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas, among others, and voters in each of the states are none too happy about it. 

Welcome (Back) to governmentality!

By Allen McDuffee |

Good morning and welcome — or welcome back — to governmentality. 

I say welcome back because this is something of a return. I originally launched governmentality in 2008, but as opportunities arose, I paused operations in 2010. Since then, I spent two years at The Washington Post, a year at Wired and now I'm reporting for The Atlantic and working on a book about the power and influence of think tanks in Washington.

Still, I missed blogging from this angle and thought back-to-basics would be good. But I've learned some things over the years and the blog is on a new platform with a cleaner design, so maybe it's more like governmentality 2.0. 

Fundamentally, this is a blog about power and the many ways it plays out in politics, business, global affairs, culture and the economy. That could mean the pure power political plays of Congress, the lengths presidential candidates will go through to win, or the strategies of military force directed by the Pentagon. But it could just as easily mean the more subtle power of ideas, dominant narratives and the business of data. (Learn more about me and governmentality.)

Each day, I'll offer my take on these questions and, in a matter of weeks, I'll launch a weekly podcast by the same name.

Keep up with all these developments by following me on Twitter (@AllenMcDuffee) and Facebook. And consider signing up for the newsletter. Feedback is great and appreciated, as are comments on individual posts — it will all make governmentality a better place.