Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The USA’s problem in one chart

The chart above from Statista shows the voter turnout in the most recent national elections held in various countries. The USA’s election turnout is always pathetic, and it is the very reason US politics are so awful: If more people voted, things would change.

Voter turnout numbers are the percentage of the eligible voting age population that turns out to vote in an election. In 2016, the USA’s 55.7% turnout, as shown in the chart, was low, though not unusual for a presidential election year: 54.9% in 2012, 58.2% in 2008—49% in 1996. Turnout is FAR worse in Midterm election years, the elections when the presidency is not on the ballot. In 2014, it was a disgusting 36.4%, which was down from the also shocking 40.9% in the 2010 Midterms. 2014 was the lowest Midterm turnout since 1942—in the midst of World War 2.

ALL elections always have consequences. The low turnout in 2014, for example, gave the US Senate to Republicans. The low turnout in 2016 gave the keys to the White House to the current occupant. Non-voters, then, are the ones who really determine elections.

There are two ways non-voters could change things. First, they could select a better class of party candidates by voting in primaries. The primaries determine who will be the candidate of that party for any office, and in the Republican Party, the most extremist supporters ALWAYS vote, and the moderates often—or usually—don’t vote, and so, candidates are increasingly extremist. If sensible mainstream people voted in the Republican primaries, they could ensure that sensible mainstream Republicans would be candidates (in part because politicians wouldn’t feel obligated to pander to the most extremist base of their party).

In some areas, Democrats sometimes have a similar problem with their primaries, but it’s not as pronounced or as widespread. I have no idea why that is.

The second way non-voters could change things is the most profound of all: They could vote in general elections and change absolutely everything. In some races, the percentage of non-voters is so high that that if they wrote-in a candidate, they candidate would win. THAT is power.

What’s interesting to me about the chart, too, is the relativity. It shows that New Zealand had a 75.7% turnout. In 2002, NZ voter turnout dropped below 80%, and despite briefly nudging back up above it in 2005, it’s been below 80% ever since. This has led to much wailing and rending of garments in New Zealand as the country frets about its “low” voter turnout. Everything would begin to change in the USA if it had a 75%+ voter turnout, which puts the problem in context.

The situation is even more pronounced in Australia, which, unlike New Zealand, has compulsory (mandatory) voting. In their most recent elections, 2016, Australia was wringing its imaginary national hands over the “lowest voter turnout since compulsory voting began in 1925”. What was their “shocking” and “low” turnout? Ninety-one percent! A mere 9% didn’t vote. Such a burden they carry!

Of course, high turnout alone isn’t enough. In Australia, the high turnout returned a terrible rightwing government to power, so even a high turnout doesn’t guarantee GOOD government. But it does guarantee one with widespread support, which is very important for a healthy democracy.

The health of democracy is the important point here. Countries with high voter turnout have governments with much greater actual support from actual people than do government elected by a low turnout. Consider: In 2014, around one in five eligible voters gave the US Senate to the Republicans—80% of voters did NOT. Last year, the current occupant of the White House was elected with the support only about a quarter of eligible voters—75% of Americans did NOT vote for him. Whether you love or hate the current occupant or the Republican party is NOT the point here: It’s not just pathetic, it’s downright dangerous that a relative handful of people determine who runs government.

Getting non-voters in the USA to vote is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING necessary for restoring sane, rational politics to the USA. Can it be done? The jury’s out. The fate of the USA’s democracy waits for the answer.

There is one thing we know for sure: If more people voted, things would change.

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