At long last the 2016 presidential nomination contests have finally started with the conclusion of the first contest, and we now have the first solid glimpse at voter participation. 186,874 Iowans participated in the Republican caucus and 171,109 participated in the Democratic caucus, for a total of 357,983 or a turnout rate of 15.7% among those eligible to vote.
A lot of the people who stay home would vote for Democrats if they bothered to vote at all. This problem goes far deeper than better techniques for getting out the vote. It reflects a massive decay of civil society, a deep disinterest and contempt for government and politics, one that often seems richly earned. This is also the soil in which fascism grows. As political scientists have demonstrated for more than a century, it is "mass society," in which people are disconnected from the "little platoons" beloved of Edmund Burke and the local associations celebrated by Toqueville, where a strongman can suddenly seem the solution to people's inchoate frustrations with their own lives and the irrelevance of politics.
In California, there are about 7 million people who are eligible to vote but never registered to do so, including 1.2 million in Los Angeles County. It's a shocking statistic, considering the sacrifices made to win passage of the historic Voting Rights Act, which marked its 50th anniversary this year.