Thursday, July 15, 2010
#6: "Likely Voters"
In the 2008 presidential election, 56.8% of those Americans eligible to vote exercised their right to do so. It was a 1.5% jump from the previous election in 2004, which happened to be the first presidential election since the devastation of September 11, 2001. The media pundits were falling over themselves to remark on the relatively-high voter turnout, no doubt spurned by the charisma of candidate Barack Obama and his invigorating the youth vote. However, no one hinted at the fact that a 57% voter turnout meant that 43% of eligible voters - nearly half - were still absent from the polls. Why not? Well, maybe because that 50% range is just about as good as it's been in the U.S. for at least the last 40 years - since the volatile 1968 presidential election, which managed to rouse nearly 61% to the polls.
And while you may read this and think, "well, that's not so bad," consider that in mid-term elections, the voter turnout hovers right around 40%. And thus is the trend of American politics. It is a trend of apathetic indifference that, I am afraid, is far worse than the numbers suggest. Meanwhile, around the world, populations of people fight for the same right to a free election. Americans can't even bother to make it to a polling location in a 12-hour period. In fact, out of the 168 countries that have held free elections since 1945, the United States of America - the great beacon of democracy - ranks 138th. Yeah, that fucking sucks.
It's not just that we don't vote, it's that we absolutely could care less who gets elected to make the major policy decisions that shape the direction of our country. In spite of the 24-hour news cycle, fewer Americans today can name their governor, state senators, or vice president than could 25 years ago. Their knowledge of their "lesser" elected officials (local and state) is even worse. It's not that the information isn't available, it's that many Americans (right around, you guessed it, 50% of Americans) can't be bothered to find out. But, you can bet 100% have an opinion about these people because, you know, Americans love to bitch.
No matter what's happening in the States, most Americans just can't be bothered. Until, that is, the major political issues begin to affect them. Oh, and then it's, "those assholes in Washington are killing us, blah, blah, blah." America's recent issues with the economy, health care, and that bit of an oil leak in the Gulf have gotten the silent majority all in a tizz. People are protesting and sounding off all over the place - mainly about the economy, but that issue is really the umbrella for the other two, so there's the appearance of a very vocal, involved, and informed populace. Well, at least for now. As soon as some other issue gets top billing in the 24-hour news cycle, the "soup de jour" will be forgotten and those "patriots" not interested in education, the homeless or whatever-it-is-that's-next-on-the-media-menu will just go back into their apathy hibernation. I mean, does anyone remember we have a war going on???? (oops, I mean WARS!)
Even those Americans who do take part in the voting process, do so largely ignorant to the complexities surrounding a given election. Candidates veil policies in superficial campaign promises and platforms that, while seemingly informative, are nothing more than vague, pathos-driven platitudes designed to appeal to a voter's emotional side as opposed to the logical. The two most common emotions are fear and nationalism, though candidates, like Obama, may also work in "hope." Consider George W. Bush's tactics in the 2004 campaign when he, discussing Democratic rival John Kerry, noted that the "liberal" Kerry would be "uncertain in the face of danger" - the danger, of course, being the threat of further terrorist attacks on American soil. Wars are great for politics as is a troubled economy. Someone will gain an advantage if he or she can use the right pathos. However, voting out of fear or out of a need for hope is not the same as making an educated choice and Americans just "don't have time" to make educated choices.
I'm not sure what's worse: not voting or voting in ignorance. In either case, the general attitude of Americans toward elections is piss-poor at best. Even the so-called patriots, who wave flags and talk about their "love" for "Merica," can't be bothered to take the time for real introspection in regard to their political decisions. It's a reactionary democracy and one that will, certainly, fuck up the whole beautiful experiment. Americans don't just suck because of their apathy towards voting, but they also suck because of their aggressive refusal to vote in any kind of meaningful way.