Getting Out The Vote

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It amazes me sometimes how effective the general aviation user groups can be at mobilizing their members. By last Friday's deadline, almost 16,000 people had filed comments on the EAA/AOPA request to change the rules about flying without a medical. From the turnout I saw at my local polling place that same week, I'm guessing that's more people than voted in our statewide primary elections. Maybe our civic political machine could learn something from the GA strategy for getting people to the polls.

So what are the forces at work here, that motivated so many people to take action?

I'm sure immediate self-interest is an important factor. It might be hard to see a good reason to vote for one candidate vs. another, especially in local races, but if the FAA would change its regs in a way that would save you money or keep you flying, that's a pretty clear and immediate incentive to make yourself heard.

Another reason of course is, people are more willing to act when they believe their action will have an impact. It's not hard for a voter to believe that even if they vote for a great candidate, and that great candidate wins, that politician might not be able to get anything done. But apparently at least 16,000 people out there believe the FAA will listen to them and their opinions will make a difference.

Of course the advocacy groups need to get some credit. I doubt that 16,000 pilots on their own would have decided to write in, if it weren't for EAA and AOPA reminding them to do it.

And of course, pilots by their nature are a self-selected group of people who are smart, motivated, and pro-active enough to earn a pilot's license, and that likely makes them as a group more likely to step up and speak out.

So, while I was discouraged by the lack of interest at my local polls, I was heartened by the willingness of our fellow pilots to take the time and trouble to file their comments, which after all, isn't that hard to do, and beats whining about how things never change. Even if things don't change, at least you can say you gave it a shot.

This all gives me hope for our participatory democracy, hope that otherwise can be hard to come by in this election season.

Comments (7)

Odd that you should sing the praises of democracy when dealing with the FAA which is more like an oligarchy than anything else. Sure, they solicit comments on rulings, but only because elected officials make them do it. They're under no obligation to take any of our comments into account when rule making and the process of NPRM is merely PR. I have no faith that the the FAA or any government agency will actually do anything in the interest of anything other than securing the largest retirement check possible for their employees.

And therein lies the reason for low numbers at the polls...

Posted by: Jerry Plante | September 24, 2012 11:55 AM    Report this comment

The freedom of flying is a huge draw, if not the main reason many people get into flying.

Yet, most people in this country are aghast when they learn people have the ability to drive up to their airplane, get in, and 'go flying'. If you put it to a vote, most would think doing so is unreasonable and it must be stopped.

I wonder how many pilots could defend their 'lavish hobby' to the general population that thinks it is unreasonable for them to fly somewhere for breakfast.

Interestingly, the word democracy does not appear in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence. In fact, when I check Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution, I see every state is guaranteed a Republican form of government; and no where in any State Constitution do I find the word democracy. I'm not sure who pledges allegiance to a 'participatory democracy' either.

As a technical correction, it should give the author hope we live in a Republic, where everyone is afforded certain rights, and where rights of the minority are upheld. The words that best describe our system is Democratic Republic.

The word Democratic is simply descriptor in that we vote for representatives which are duty bound to operate within only the framework of vested authority given to them from 'We The People' in the Constitution.

As Thomas Jefferson said, liberty and ignorance cannot coexist; just as the ability to fly and the inability to describe the framework of limitations we the people have imposed on our government.

Posted by: Bryan Berkland | September 24, 2012 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Well, I’m going to flip the coin here.

16,000 responses seems a very small ‘turn-out’ from the pilot population. AvWeb suggests 255,000 readers, the AOPA has over 400,000 members, the EAA membership, ?? I don’t know..

The 16,000 responses would be 4 % of the AOPA membership.

Certainly, a large portion of the AOPA membership might not be concerned about the need for a medical, for all kinds of reasons; job requirements, insurance requirements, etc.

On the other hand, if 4 % of the national voting pool cast ballots in the next election, I suggest it would not be ‘participatory democracy’.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 24, 2012 1:52 PM    Report this comment

Edd, you make a good point, and it's true the percentage of pilots commenting is not that high. It seemed to me like a lot of people to actually take the time to write in their comments, but I admit that's a pretty subjective reaction. Jerry, I'm sure there's some truth in what you say, but I disagree that the NPRM process is purely PR. The final rules do address the comments, and sometimes get changed or even scrapped in response.

Posted by: Mary Grady | September 24, 2012 9:35 PM    Report this comment

It saddens me to say it, but the reason so many pilots comment on the FAA petitions is because the FAA makes it easy to do so -- 10 minutes and a web form can give them a clear, concise statement of your opinion, and like Mary points out the final rules address the comments that were received (probably because the volume is relatively low). Even if the FAA doesn't agree with you, at least you know you were heard.

By contrast going to the polls requires actually GOING to the polls - not quite as convenient as a web form people can fill out while on hold with the local FSS, and you are lost in a sea of other votes (particularly if you hold a minority opinion).

Posted by: Michael Graziano | September 25, 2012 4:05 PM    Report this comment

"By contrast going to the polls requires actually GOING to the polls"

"16,000 responses seems a very small ‘turn-out’ from the pilot population. AvWeb suggests 255,000 readers, the AOPA has over 400,000 members, the EAA membership, ??"

i'm guessing eaa and aopa overlap many members. so i agree completely, only 16000 comments on such a momentous change is disappointing. as to voting, just request they mail you a ballot then mail it back in. i've voted in every election since '68 and never - never - voted in a polling place.

ain't a republic great!

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | September 27, 2012 9:25 AM    Report this comment

While I did file a comment on the theory that a small step would be better than nothing, the fact that the proposal would actually benefit a small sub-sector of the pilot population probably was a factor in its garnering of "only" 16,000 comments.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 28, 2012 8:04 PM    Report this comment

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