This year, even those who aren’t political junkies have politics heavy on their mind. With the stakes being waged in this campaign it would be hard not to. I find myself discussing things with the people in my life that rarely cross our lips…things like civic duty.
What is your civic duty?
Most of us obey the laws because we don’t want to suffer the consequences.
Most of us pay taxes because it is compulsory.
Not so, with voting and our participation in the political process.
On average, most of us don’t turn out to vote. 2008 was a banner year with a record high 56% turnout. That’s the highest it’s been since 1964. Unfortunately, that’s not as impressive as it looks at first glance because statistical data shows that while our population is booming, voter participation is in fact declining. It is even less impressive when you look at the voter participation rates in Europe, many of which average in the 90th percentile. Check out IDEA, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, for more data.
The reason that high voter participation is so important is that it best reflects the will of the majority and results in a political body that is more reflective of it’s citizenry. It’s well known, for example, that the US has some of the lowest rates of female representation. Research shows that countries with higher rates of female representatives have far better health and educational systems. There are real and concrete benefits to be gained. As the demographics of the U.S. changes it becomes ever more critical that our political system incorporates and considers not only basic human needs, societal concerns, but addresses specific cultural, gender and racial issues which constrain human potential, and by extension our potential as a nation.
Democracy is only as good as the people that fuel it and we all need to do our part.
The people of the United States laud ourselves as THE model of democracy and believe inherently that it’s the best system because it is driven by the will of the people. Why then do so few of us participate in the most powerful tool we have to shape our world?
Certainly, many of us complain loud and long about the state of politics, the corruption, the negativity, the lack of representation that reflects what average voters need or want. The single, loudest complaint, beautifully illustrated by the emergence of Occupy Wall Street, is that the system is rigged against us. Ergo, it’s not hard to deduce that at least one significant reason for declines in U.S. voter participation is a deep seated cynicism and mistrust of the government.
Admittedly, many of today’s politicians make it increasingly hard to trust the political process period. When you consider the record number of filibusters invoked by the GOP Congress in the last four years which has stymied the progress of our nation you can only feel a high level of disgust. Clearly, their actions are not the will of the people, a small rabid subset perhaps, but not the vast majority of us. How many of us voted in the 2010 elections that helped create this gridlock? 37% of the electorate turned out which is 2.3% of eligible voters. See the problem?
Who’s voting? Statistics show that those with higher education and incomes are much more likely to vote.
(1) Having reaped significant rewards they find it easier to believe in the reciprocity of the political system
(2) They’ve been educated to understand the importance of civic responsibility and intricacies of the system
(3) They are looking to protect their wealth and way of life
(4) It’s much easier to believe in a system when you’re not burdened by poverty, poor education, unscrupulous employers and low wage jobs. When you have time to focus on more that surviving, the realm of possibilities and your focus becomes much larger.
You can bet that Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, and the billionaire set have donated so heavily to the Republican party because they will reap a return on their investment, reaping greater economic rewards and power.
However, it’s worth noting that even with the dirty money unleashed by Citizens United and the fact that billionaires are outspending Democrats almost 2 to 1, the race is still incredibly close. What does that speak to? People power and the power of democracy.
Compulsory voting impinges on one’s freedom but I’m still wondering if it would be so bad. Low education voters are indeed a danger to our country because they don’t make sound decisions but the lack of voter participation is just as bad.
With all this heavy on my mind, the following video did my heart good. From the mouth of babes…