With Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court being an international topic of conversation, it would be logical for most to believe Americans would agree on the importance of exercising their voting rights with mid-term elections less than a month away. Unfortunately, in some thought bubble, the importance of voting is a subject of conversation.
The process of a functioning democratic republic depends on citizens participating in the voting process. Voter ID Legislation, The Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program, and attempts to close voting locations are direct assaults on US citizens Constitutional right to vote — the way to enact political change within a democratic system. Without participation in elections (or the threat of), US protest movements throughout history wouldn’t have been able to bring about legislative change.
The Republican Party; which has since lost its progressive roots, rose to be the second most powerful party in the US Congress in under a decade by running on an anti-slavery platform — leading to the Presidential election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Protests against slavery existed well before the formation of the party, yet the eventual abolition of such did not occur until concentrated voting efforts came into effect at the highest political office, and the defeat of the Confederacy; formed of states which seceded from the Union in protest, during the Civil War.
The Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements both involved using the vote as aspects of their platform. Allies of the suffragists were able to pass the 19th Amendment, while John F. Kennedy ran on a staunch civil rights platform which Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law after Kennedy’s assassination. While protest and strategic political activism were important aspects of both, it would be incorrect to ignore the role of the ballot in each — the right to vote was a core principle at the center of the social movements.
“Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections,” according to FairVote, suggesting the problem is more of the lack of voting than the process being ineffective in bringing popular change.
From Pew Research, “The 55.7% VAP [Voting-Age Population] turnout in 2016 puts the U.S. behind most of its peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), most of whose members are highly developed, democratic states. Looking at the most recent nationwide election in each OECD nation, the U.S. placed 26th out of 32 (current VAP estimates weren’t available for three countries).”
Michael McDonald, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida uses Voting-Eligible Population (VEP) instead of the VAP metric. He explains the calculation, “The voting-eligible population is constructed by adjusting the voting-age population for non-citizens and ineligible felons, depending on state law. National estimates are further adjusted for overseas eligible voters…” Using McDonald’s calculations the VEP for the 2016 election cycle adjusts to 60.1% remaining far lower than most OECD nations.
The last ten VEP mid-term turnout figures provide insight into political apathy within the United States:
- 1978 (39%)
- 1982 (42%)
- 1986 (38.1%)
- 1990 (38.4%)
- 1994 (41.1%)
- 1998 (38.1%)
- 2002 (39.5%)
- 2006 (40.4%)
- 2010 (41%)
- 2014 (36.7%)
A 2014 study by Martin Gliens and Benjamin I. Page, published in Perspectives on Politics, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” examines how the will of economic elites and organized groups represent business interests and assert their will over public opinion. They detail:
The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
In recent years, activists have organized demonstrations for common sense gun reform, tuition-free public college, universal healthcare, and women’s rights — however, the current Congress has shown to have little interest in passing legislation addressing those concerns, despite each polling well among citizens. Therefore, it would seem voting for candidates supporting such policies would be the most effective way to bring about change to the political system.