Monday, May 28, 2018

What America said last Tuesday (written November 9, 2014)

Note, May 28, 2018: Another post left in draft. It appears incomplete. I'm posting what there is of it for its relevance to the events two years after it was written. The draft of this post was dated November 9, 2014.

I was watching one of the Sunday squabble shows this morning. Candy Crowley had a bunch of newly-elected members of Congress on one side of the set and a bunch of returning members on the other side. Among the old guard was the ever-delusional Michele Bachmann, who kept going on about the "clear message" Americans had sent last  Tuesday.

Americans did send a message last Tuesday, though I don't think she heard it. And that message was "Meh."

The midterm elections of 2014 had the lowest voter turnout of any general election since 1942. Yet in polling prior to the elections, Americans expressed overwhelming disapproval for the job Congress is doing. Logic would seem to dictate that such dissatisfaction would lead to action to unseat the people responsible for the dissatisfaction. Instead, Americans chose to stay at home and watch TV.


I'm no social scientist, but like a lot of people I have some theories to explain why people behave like they do. Let's look at the last few elections.

Turnout was high in 2008. Many people who had never cast a vote before, despite being eligible for many years, went out and voted for the very first time. For a lot of people the motivating factor here was the opportunity to vote for the FIRST! BLACK! PRESIDENT! It worked: As you may be aware, Barack Obama became President.

In 2010, just two years later, turnout was low again. Many of the people who were excited about voting in 2008 had other priorities on Election Day in 2010. Besides, for the most part the elections were either for one bland late-middle-aged white guy running against another bland late-middle-aged white guy, or were being held in districts so gerrymandered that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. What was there to get excited about? The Democratic get-out-the-vote machine that had been in action in 2008 was mostly silent.

That's why I was worried in 2012. Mitt Romney was a terrible candidate, but Republican partisans were still committed to vote for him. Barack Obama had failed to deliver on many of his promises from 2008, and Republican obstructionism had blocked many of his grand ideas from being realized, while others, like the Affordable Care Act, had been twisted and bent in an attempt to garner approval from a majority of Congress to the point that they were just barely recognizable. Democratic support was there, but it was less enthusiastic than in 2008. Yet when election day came, despite the best efforts by Republicans to disenfranchise voters or in some cases to relocate or simply close polling places, voter turnout was high and Barack Obama won again.

Which brings us to 2014. The economy is recovering, we are told, though most of us do not feel it; in fact, most of the gains from the improving economy are going to the wealthiest strata of society. War and pestilence are everywhere, with ISIS waiting to chop off our heads and spread Ebola through illegal immigrants. Congress is historically inactive, engaging in partisan bickering and the occasional grand but meaningless gestures doomed to failure. Approval for the President's performance is low, but approval for Congressional performance is barely in the double digits.

Last Tuesday, a smaller percentage of America's eligible voters came out to vote. The Republicans won handily, and now control both branches of Congress.

The people who voted for these Republicans will share in the blame for their actions. That's a given. But the people who were so excited to vote in 2008, and who turned out again in 2012, but didn't bother to vote in 2014 - those people let it happen. As did everyone who sat at home on Election Day 2014 and didn't bother to vote.

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