High school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years.
I am hearing more and more these days, especially from younger adults in America, that it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not, that the system is rigged. How cynical. Even more cynical in my opinion are those saying things like, “Neither political party represents me,” and, “Politicians are all the same; all they care about is getting themselves re-elected.” I have even heard the idea recently expressed that not voting is actually an alternative way of voting — expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the political system’s status quo.
My reaction to all of this is concern, fear actually, about what this means for democracy in America as we older citizens, the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, decline in numbers. Combined with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which not only allows but encourages greater influence on state and federal governance by corporations and other special interests, this trend points to the end of government-of-by-and-for-the-people (if ever it truly existed at all) and the ultimate establishment of a plutocracy, worse yet, maybe even a new version of Fascism.
High school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years. Where 80 percent or better used to turn-out for national elections, now the percent has dropped to 50 or less. Compared to the rest of the world’s countries in which people vote, even where voting is not compulsory, Americans are far less likely to be involved in the political process. But why?
Statistically speaking, in any election with twenty or more votes being cast, the chance that any one vote will determine the outcome is extremely low — virtually nil. Studies show too that a single vote in a voting scheme such as the Electoral College in the United States has an even lower chance of determining the outcome. Further, studies using game theory, which takes into account the ability of voters to interact, have also found that the expected turnout for any large election should be zero. So, one might ask instead, why should we even bother?
The factors in deciding whether or not to vote are: P (the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election), B (the perceived benefit that would be received if a person’s favored political party or candidate were to be elected), D (originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting), and C (the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting). P times B plus D must be greater than C before a person will vote. (The basic idea behind this formula was developed by Anthony Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy. published in 1957.)
Obviously P is a non factor. Further, considering the ensuing deadlock in Washington on issues that Americans care about, things like immigration, tax policy, equal rights for women and gays, and gun control, B has lost ground as a factor too. That leaves D, the sense of civic duty or the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, as the prime factor in countering C, the inertia factor.
One could argue that D, the sense of social and personal gratification that African Americans derived from voting in the last two presidential elections, was the reason that Barrack Obama, the first African American to be nominated for President, handily won the White House for two terms. A large segment of voters was motivated to get off the couch and go stand in long lines to cast their votes as never before. It could be too that Hillary Clinton, because she is a woman and likely to be the first of her gender to be nominated by a major political party for President, will likewise be elected.
I believe that this factor, the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, is at least in part the motivation for Republican controlled states to pass voting restriction laws and modified/reduced early voting dates and the numbers of polling places in urban areas, thus impacting voters who would most likely favour Democrats. Republican politicians have actually admitted this.
Can one be justified in believing that neither of the major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, represents them? No, not in my opinion. Believing this is simply a choice which rationalises one’s cynicism. One has only to compare the political platforms of each party, if they are inclined to do so, and assess which one aligns more with one’s beliefs and priorities. That neither party seems to be able to advance change, to move the ball down-court in the current political environment, does not mean that neither party conforms all in in-part with one’s beliefs. There is something for everyone in one party platform or the other.
Does not voting, in and of itself, constitute a vote, protest or otherwise? No, in my opinion, choosing to believe that it does is just more rationalisation for cynicism. Choosing not to vote is not a protest, not in my opinion. It is submission to the rigging of the system that we all abhor — at least those of us who have had nothing to do with the rigging. So, if one lacks the requisite sense of civic duty or the sense of social or personal gratification that comes from participation in the political process, one might more honestly just say, “I don’t care.”
Are all politicians the same? Are all motivated only by getting themselves re-elected? Of course not. But I would agree that too many are motivated primarily by personal interest. It is a human failing.
Given the political landscape in the United States, it is easy for me to understand the cynicism of many citizens, especially those among the gen-Xers and millennials who tend to be more cynical anyway. But can we allow this trend of decreasing voter turn-out to continue and risk the demise of democracy altogether? Yes we can. We can allow special interests, corporations and the wealthy to take total control of our elections. But should we? I say no. Emphatically, I say NO! That is why I think that we should consider the following: restoring the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, which the Supreme Court has recently all but nullified; reversing Citizens United which declares corporations to be citizens too; redefining what and how redistricting can be done by the states, and; amending the Constitution to implement term limits for Congress. We should also make voting universally easy for citizens — all citizens. I would not even oppose some form of compulsory voting, for when liberty and equality are in peril, extreme measures become necessary. The question is, are we at that point yet?
Whether you agree with me on this topic or not, I would very much like hear your opinion. Please feel free to post a comment.