Written by Robert Warden
|I saw a list of nations by voter participation by nation the other day. The highest participation level was in Malta, where 94% of eligible voters actualy voted. It was a rather long list, at the end of which was the United States. I knew that our esteemed nation had a shamefully poor record of low voter turnout, but this was worse than I had expected. The United States, in all its glory, has the worst voter turnout in lower house elections of any nation in this list of nations which have had such elections regularly. In fact, it was the only nation with less than 50% turnout, at a record setting pace of democratic futility with an average of 48% voter turnout. That’s my nation — that bastion of democracy, that world leader in exceptionalism, the grandparent of all democracies, with the longest history. Perhaps this is historical evidence of the cycles that nations and empires go through, and that every one eventually collapses. I don’t think so, though .
Doing some further research, I found a government document which meticulously catalogues voting percentages by various demographic characteristics. They cannot document with any certainty how many people of each group voted for which candidate, because of the privacy built into our election system, but we do know trends in party membership and how people say they will or have voted. Considered from this respect, the government results are to me, frankly rather startling.
We know that women tend to be more liberal than men, young voters more liberal than older ones, and “minorities” tend to be more liberal than white voters. With this in mind, let’s take a look at who is most likely to vote, and thus which demographic groups have the greatest influence in choosing our politicians, and therefore, the type of politics we experience. I think it is not difficult to figure out where this is leading (http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p20-577.pdf).
First, voting rates in presidential years are much higher than in midterm years. For instance, 61.8% of eligible voters voted in 2012, but only 41.9% voted in 2014. This sets the stage for poor midterm election results, especially for liberals. By race or ethnicity, whites are much more likely to vote than nonwhites. For instance, 45.8% of eligible White voters actually did vote in 2014, while 40.6% of Black voters cast their ballots, and only 27.0% of Hispanic voters did so. These were the only 3 groups that were included in the analysis; Asians and other groups were not listed. By age, older people were far more likely to vote than younger eligible voters. Once again for the 2014 election, 59.4% of those over the age of 65 voted, while 49.6% of 45 to 64 year olds voted, 37.8% of 35 to 44 year olds voted, and only 23.1% of 18 to 34 year olds managed to vote. Another way to put it, is that senior citizens were more than 2 1/2 times as likely as young adults in the 18-34 year old range, to vote; and even senior citizens did not have a very good turnout. Less than 1/4 of the younger group actually voted (despite my always encouraging my community college students to vote when the time comes). Now, anybody who knows more than the most rudimentary facts about politics, knows that “minority” voters and younger adults tend to be more politically liberal than older people and Whites; thus, these numbers set up election in the United States to be skewed toward electing conservative politicians, so if anybody wonders how we got such a conservative Congress despite the large majority of Americans having more liberal views when polled, herein lies the answer. The people who would vote for more liberal politicians, are more apt to not bother voting.
There are a few other relevant findings as well. Women are slightly more likely than men to vote, but the gender difference is small. Specifically, 43.0% of eligible women voters cast their ballots in 2014 as compared to 40.8% of eligible men voters. Women do tend to be more liberal, but that isn’t enough of a difference to affect election results very much. More educated people are more likely to vote as well. This trend is quite strong. For example, only 23.7% of those with less than a 9th grade education voted in 2014, while 62.0% of those with an advanced degree did so. The relationship between education and political views is complicated, however. While those with advanced degrees tend to be liberal, most wealthy conservative businesspeople have a college education, and those with little education tend to be liberal (and often of minority background). Wikipedia states that research finds conservatism to in fact increase with education level up through Bachelors degrees, but those with advanced degrees tend to be liberal (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_ideologies_in_the_United_States). Since the percentage of Americans with advanced degrees is relatively low (around 11%), this trend once again overall favors conservative politicians, but with the caveat that people with advanced degrees tend to be progressive and relatively active politically.
There is also a strong trend regarding income, with upper income individuals being much more likely to vote than people with lower incomes. The percentage of people who voted in 2014, for instance, increased with each successive income level. For those with less than $10,000 in income, only 24.5% voted, while the highest income bracket — those with over $150,000 in annual income — were the most likely to vote, with 56.6% of this population casting their ballots. Again, linking this trend to political ideology is complicated by the fact that at the highest income levels, people are just as likely to be progressive as conservative. However, it appears that increasing income is correlated with greater conservatism for all but the wealthiest levels, especially on economic issues, thus showing a similar trend to that for education. Once again, this trend also favors conservative politicians, as middle to upper middle class (but not wealthy) people tend to favor conservative economic policies in particular, and perhaps military policies as well (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_ideologies_in_the_United_States). (By the way, I did considerable searching for information regarding these topics, and as is often the case, Wikipedia has the best information that I can find.)
Let’s Get People To Vote!
The overall result of checking all these statistics is very clear: The low voter turnouts seen in the United States result in very bad outcomes for progressives, which is exactly why we need to work hard to increase voter turnout, especially among young people and minorities. This is why we need to do our best to get out the vote. I cannot overemphasize this point. This is that important. It is abundantly clear that the “average American voter” is considerably more conservative than the “average American,” and this needs to change.
American politics has been poisoned by anti-government rhetoric for many years. Far too many people are politically disaffected, and basically fooled into believing that their voting behavior makes no difference, or even aids and abets the powers that be. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Young people see a dysfunctional government and feel helpless to fix it, or that they don’t know enough about the issues to vote competently. However, it doesn’t take that much to educate young adults on the basics regarding why they need to vote better people into positions of government leadership. Similarly, Blacks and Hispanics tend to feel that they aren’t listened to and thus their vote doesn’t count, and similar dynamics apply to the poor and the relatively uneducated in America. Gerrymandered districts add some reality to this perception; however, the rule in voting is still one person, one vote. Everybody’s vote makes a difference, incrementally as an individual, but massively in a collective sense. Perhaps the United States being such an individualistic society has contributed to the poor voting record of the public. We need to think in terms of collective action.
Actually, I think Republicans who know about voting trends are terrified of seeing increasing numbers of minorities, young people, the poor and the relatively uneducated vote. This is why they try so hard to suppress voting by these groups, and tragically, their rhetoric has largely been succeeding. However, as the United States becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, inevitably the percentage of voters who are nonwhite has steadily increased. Republicans are now trying to enforce more voting restrictions, such as voter ID laws, to make voting more difficult for minorities, the poor and the young. In a sense, this may be a sign of desperation on their part as they see the influence of the angry white male conservative, and the rich conservative businessman, slipping — despite the effectiveness of their efforts to alienate liberal voting groups from the poltical process over the years. Don’t let these oligarchs and conservative ideologues succeeed. American citizens have a right — and some believe, a civic duty — to vote, regardless of race, creed, income, education level, etc. We need to exercise that right as a society, far better than we have been. Encourage people you know to vote, especially those who have been ambivalent about it. With good levels of voting participation, our government will become far better than it has been.
Another Reason To Vote For Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders sees these issues quite clearly, and talks about it. We need greater voter participation, especially among underrepresented groups. Although Bernie Sanders is running for President now, he talks about the need to have a better Congress. This is another point that cannot be overemphasized. A relatively liberal President might help get a majority of at least non-fascist Supreme Court judges, and better messaging from the top, but in order to get much done, we need a more cooperative Congress than the Republican obstructionist corporate shills and Democrat corporatists that dominate the Congress that we have now. The way to do that is to have better voter turnout and an active electorate which elects progressives and pushes for progressive reform.
Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who appeals to all politically disaffected groups — once they know about him — as well as the progressive base; he is the one candidate who is most capable of creating an excellent voter turnout, although others might make that claim.
However, I encourage people to vote according to their consciences, but please do vote, whoever they might favor politically. The primaries have not yet begun, so that should be our focus now; we can think about the general election after the primaries are settled. Let us begin with a good turnout of voters for the primaries; people who vote in the primaries are also very likely to vote in the general election.
The vast majority of Americans recognize the need for political change. While working to change society for the better, in ways that circumvent government are important, I believe that this works synergistically with changes in government practices as well — and the best way to effect change in government, in my opinion, is the opportunity through voting and political involvement such as peaceful protest or contacting representatives in government. Yet, far too many Americans have been standing on the sidelines as our nation has proceeded down a slippery slope toward greater wealth and power inequalities, rampant militarism, and the denial of basic human rights in favor of the profit motive. Here is our best chance to change that. Go out and vote, and let’s all make our voices heard.