Politicians and Pundits constantly bandy around the word “democracy” when referring to our country. They are trying to make the point that we are somehow more exceptional than other nations, because ours is a country where the will of the people is paramount. We have a President who received 3 million less votes than his opponent, yet was elected due to an outmoded Constitutional provision. A scant 5 months into this Presidential Administration, we have an embattled Trump, under investigation and with the worst approval rating of any President in American history. Nevertheless, this person is the President and his doings, though reported with a good deal of bemused astonishment, still appear to require the gravitas associated with holding the office. There are significant questions about this man’s legitimacy because of FBI and Russian interference in the election campaign, yet it seems no one of prominence in politics, nor the media, questions the sad, salient fact that only 54% of eligible voters, voted in the election. When little more than half of the eligible voters participate electorally, how can anyone claim democratic virtues for this country?
This link will take you to a chart showing the percentage turnout of eligible voters for every Presidential election since 1828 here. If you peruse the chart there are a few particular items that I would ask you to ponder:
- Three times in American history since 1828, the percentage of eligible voters voting was less than 50%, they were: 1920 = 49.2%, 1924 = 48.9% and 1996 = 49%. For the first two, they occurred at the beginning of the “Roaring 20’s“, which was a time of communist repression, labor unrest and Republican voter suppression. The third was of course in the middle of Bill Clinton’s embattled administration and Clinton had both times won his Presidency with less than 50% of the votes cast.
- The last time 60% or more of the eligible voters cast a vote in a Presidential election was 1968, when Nixon won the Presidency during a particular embattled time in American history. This was during the height of Civil Rights protests dovetailing with protests against the Vietnam War. This was also the Presidential campaign when candidate Robert F. Kennedy was murdered, after the murder of Martin Luther King.
As a member of the 60’s generation and as someone who was involved with the protests of the time, 1968 was a turning point. The murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, followed by the riots at the Democratic Convention and topped by Nixon’s election disillusioned so many Americans, myself included. After 1968 it became impossible for so many of us Americans to ever again see our Country as a pristine Democracy functioning under the “Rule of Law“. Yet if 1968 alone wasn’t enough for Americans to lose faith in their inability to influence our government, the came the Kent State Murders, the escalation of the Vietnam War against widespread public opprobrium and Watergate, which resulted in our first Un-Elected President.
By the 1996 Election, “Establishment thinkers” in the media and in politics had taken notice of the low voter turnout, but seemed at a loss to explain it, except by excoriating those Americans who were not voting. If you think about it whenever the discussion of voter turnout arises, almost always the onus is put upon the American voters for not caring enough to maintain our democratic values. This U.S. voter indifference is often contrasted with statistics like 58 countries with better voter turnout than the United State decrying the fact that voter turnout in Uruguay and Ecuador tops 90%.
In my opinion the blame for indifferent voter turnout in the United States is not the fault of our voters, but of our American system lately, which delivers the message that “ones’ vote doesn’t matter“. This can be seen in the following ways:
- Election Day held on Tuesdays, which are workdays for almost all voters.
- Voter suppression via difficult voter registration rules.
- Voter suppression via less polling venues and less voting machines.
- Obvious message that wealth controls politicians interests.
The cluelessness of the pundits discussing American voter turnout is their highlighting the fact that voter turnout among older Americans is quite high and so gives their preferences an edge over younger voters. What these pundits never seem to explain is that an older, retired American, like me for instance, is better able to vote because I’m no longer working. As the disparity of wealth among Americans increases, along with the cost of living, workers have a more limited ability to get to the polls, either before of after a long workday.
- If you give voters the message that their voting franchise is so unimportant that they must personally struggle to exercise it, they will be give up the struggle.
- If you give voters the message that no matter who they elect their wants and needs will not be addressed, they will not have a strong reason to vote.
- If you give people of color, or of minority ethnicity, the message that their voting is not wanted by limiting their polling places and the machines available, they will not vote in numbers.
Who benefits by Americans not voting is easy to perceive.
- If you are Conservative Billionaire Oligarchs like the Koch Brothers for instance and your political agenda is antithetical to the political voting interests of most Americans.
- If you are a Republican Politician, suckling campaign funding from Billionaire Oligarchs and their corporations, then you want the votes of your opponents suppressed.
- If you are Conservative Christian Fundamentalists then you want the votes of those not of your “flock” suppressed.
You will note that in the three classes of interested parties listed above, the common thread is that by all relevant polling they represent the viewpoint of a minority of the American people, yet somehow it is their viewpoints that dominate our national political discussion. I believe that this reflects the suppression of people voting, the dominance of money in politics and perhaps most importantly the evidence that the will of the majority doesn’t matter in these United States. While I am a cynic about the American political system, I vote religiously and passionately care about trying to change it into a more democratic one. That said, I neither blame the many Americans who don’t vote, nor do I find fault with them. These non-voters have been turned off by decades of being shown that their opinions don’t matter and decades where their actual ability to vote has decreased through purposeful disregard.
We have to realize that if we are truly committed to turn this country around and away from being a Corporate Oligarchy, the we must make voting easier and at the same time fight to take money out of our political system. This is a sadly daunting task, yet if we care, what choice do we have?