Despite all the media hype about how crucial this mid-term election was and the much-ballyhooed sophisticated methods each party supposedly had developed for getting their supporters to the polls, the number of people who actually voted may turn out to be a historic low. As NPR’s Robert Siegel reports:
In the past two presidential elections, around 130 million Americans cast votes. In the midterms four years ago, 91 million voters took part. That number represented 42 percent of the American population of voting age. This year – well, the numbers aren’t official yet, and political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida who tracks such things told me today that the total is likely to rise a little as late arriving mail-in ballots and other missing votes are counted.
But as of today, according to numbers from the Associated Press, a bit over 83 million people voted. As a share of the voting-eligible population, that is 36.6 percent. It was a lot higher than that in Colorado and New Hampshire where there were very hard-fought Senate races.
But if after all the votes are counted, if the national turnout rate doesn’t reach 38.1 percent, it would be the lowest turnout since the midterm elections of 1942. And as Michael McDonald points out, that was in the middle of the Second World War.
What might explain this low rate? Some people are clearly principled non-voters, people who have decided that they are boycotting elections because they are part of a rigged system. The rigging is not as blatant as in overtly authoritarian nations but they feel that they are rigged in subtle ways and that it is only by turning our backs on the rotten system that we can somehow create a groundswell for reform.
But in most cases, the reason for not voting is likely just apathy. But even apathy need not be a negative reflection on the voter but can again be an indictment of the system. If people feel there is no point in voting because it has no relevance to their actual lives, then they too are making a statement about the system and how they feel that it no longer serves them irrespective of who wins and loses.
Pew did a survey of nonvoters and came up with the results that nonvoters are more likely to be younger, more racially and ethnically diverse, less affluent, and less educated. Ominously for the Democratic party:
Taking into account the party leanings of independents, about half of nonvoters (51%) either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic; just 30% affiliate with the GOP or lean Republican, while 20% do not lean toward either party.
The Democrats have to seriously ask themselves why their natural constituency is not enthusiastic about them.
What I would like to see is a study as to the reasons why people don’t vote, to gauge the degree of disillusionment with the system.