Thursday, September 4, 2008

Voter Fatigue

By Alan Caruba

When the Republican convention concludes with a speech by John McCain, a lot of people from both parties or no parties are going to heave a great sigh of relief. We all will have had two weeks of the most intense media concentration on matters political and it induces fatigue.

Without any research or study to support my view, I have long thought that people either make up their minds quite early in any election cycle or do so close to or on Election Day. In either case, an appallingly few registered voters actually show up to vote.

It is the job of journalists and pundits to pay close attention to every word that a candidate utters, but most political speeches are almost instantly forgotten. It’s all airy promises of either increasing (for worthy new or expanded government programs) or decreasing your taxes (because individuals and the economy works best when people are allowed to decide how to spend their own money), reforming the “mess” in Washington, D.C, and defending the nation against a world of enemies.

Occasionally, events intervene to create extraordinary circumstances. We saw that with the Depression of the 1930s and FDR’s subsequent four terms, the last of which was completed by a Vice President, Harry Truman, who few would have considered qualified to be President. Historians now say Truman did an excellent job. Wars, too, are transformative events that call out the best in Americans who hate wars. We have a reasonably good record of winning them. Now the watchword is terrorism; a very different kind of war, but a war nonetheless.

Voters, however, elect and send Representatives and Senators to Washington, D.C. to deal with these and other matters. They have businesses to run, jobs to do, auto and mortgage payments, children to raise, and a thousand other things to think about.

The reality is that it has been the rare national election when more than 55%—at most—of those registered to vote actually show up at the polls.

In 2006, out of 135,889,600 registered voters, only 80,588,000 or 43.6% voted. In 2004, 55.3% voted. In 2002, only 37% voted!

You have to go back to the1960s to find a significant voter turnout. In only one year, 1964, did a whopping 61.9% of the voters show up to exercise what is arguably one of the most valuable rights a citizen possesses. That was the year a liberal Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson, soundly defeated a conservative Republican, Barry Goldwater. LBJ would soon immerse the nation in the Vietnam War, evoking such resistance that it would deny him seeking reelection. It would leave over 50,000 dead American warriors in its wake.

The point of this exercise in historical statistics is that, for the past 46 years between 1960 and 2006, voters have proven themselves to be a largely indifferent crowd. Perhaps as the result of all the media attention and the unfortunate length of political campaigns these days, beginning as they do the day after the last election, people simply grow indifferent to the outcome?

Perhaps they look at Presidents and events, and conclude that whoever is in that office doesn’t make much difference? They are, of course, wrong. Very wrong. It’s more than just politics. It’s the nation’s survival at stake and it has been thus from the first day George Washington took office.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Traditionally, in British politics one didn't so much vote for a person as for a party - Conservative, Labour or Liberal - depending on one's personal leanings. Conservative was for the better educated, business orientated Middle England person. Labour was formed by the backbone of the marching, unionised working social man and the Liberal for those who thought out-of-the-box. To a large extent that is still true of many of we older voters. For me I shall always be Conservative - Labour is anathema in my thinking. Liberalism is akin to fence-hopping and marginalism, not worth a light.
To see the analysis of the US election process, so far, I am confused as to why people can change 'sides' so easily. Your elections seem to be far more about 'personality' than 'sides'. Religion has far more sway than it does in Britain where it matters hardly at all. The younger generation will go for a handsome face - the older generation for his beliefs embedded in his party of choice, come what may.
This is becoming more like Hobson's Choice (the choice between a bad case and a worse case) as politics is more a regime change than a policy change.
In my comparison there is no way I could ever vote for a 'Billary' as that would clash with my beliefs. It isn't a question of like or dislike of the personalities involved, it is the embedded, solid-core belief in one sytem of government as opposed to flip-flopping over a smile or a promise.
Clive in Laoag City, Philippines