In the coronavirus “era”, people are taking political stances by opening businesses or churches that are supposed to remain closed, going to beaches they aren’t “supposed” to attend, or refusing to wear a mask. These are all forms of political participation.
Americans, on average, participate in politics more than citizens of most countries and yet Americans, on average, vote less than citizens of most countries.
So, Americans are more likely to go to a political protest than to go vote.
Which is an interesting conundrum, right? Because, protests are really only effective if those in power who are being protested against know that those who are protesting will punish them on election day.
Let that sink in for a second…
So, with this as a the back drop, I wanted to step through a couple facts about political participation. These come from an excellent American government textbook by James Wilson.
One: Voter Turnout Rates Continue to Decline Despite Legal Changes to Make Room for More Access
Legally, it is has never been easier for an American to vote.
Have a disability and can’t go vote? Mail-in or absentee voting is now possible.
Live out of state but want to vote in your state? Again, absentee voting is now possible.
Can’t make it to the polls on election day? No problem, early voting can solve that.
Are you 18? You can now vote.
Are you a woman? How about African American, or Latino or Homosexual? You can now vote.
Don’t know how to register to vote? You register when you get your driver’s license.
In other words, the easier we have made it to go vote, the fewer people are actually voting.
Take a look:
The Fifteenth Amendment established the right of everyone to vote regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude
The Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 allowed women to vote.
The Voting Rights Act of 1970 gave 18 year olds the right to vote in federal elections and eventually the The Twenty-Sixth Amendment said that 18 year olds can vote in all elections, state and federal.
And yet, despite all of these successive legal and other changes, changes that were meant to increase the electoral participation, voter turnout rates in America today are lower than they were for previous generations.
Get this, between 1860 and 1900 65-80% of eligible voters participated, and yet today the average voting turnout rate is 50% of eligible voters or less.
There really are hardly any legitimate excuses that Americans can use to justify their lack of political turnout to vote —- and yet they continue to refuse to vote.
Two: Young People Still Do Not Vote
This is not a novel truth or relevant only to this particular group of young Americans.
Basically, if you are older now, you were less likely to vote when you were young. Every generation of young people is politically inactive. The tragedy of this current generation’s political passivity is that despite averaging more years of formal education, facing fewer legal barriers, and enjoying more access to information than any previous generation could have imagined, the majority of young people do not vote.
Just chew on this and ponder why this is the case—for all young generations throughout history, and for this particular 2020 generation with all the access and ability and information they now have.
Three: Political Participation Does Not Consist of Voting Only
As I mentioned before, Americans are much more likely and much more willing to engage in many other forms of political participation. Of course, never putting two and two together, that in order for those forms of participation to be fully effective, their vote must be utilized.
Here are a few different forms of popular political participation:
Voting or trying to influence others to vote,
Joining a political party or giving money to a candidate for office,
Keeping informed about government or debating political issues with others
Signing a petition
Protesting a policy
Advocating for a new law
Writing a letter to an elected official
And in the coronavirus era, opening a restaurant etc
Americans participate in politics more than most Europeans, or anybody else for that matter. Americans have spirit, Americans have fight—-liberal, conservative or anything else. They just need to add a little logic to the mix and turn their willingness to demonstrate into willingness to participate.
Four: A Lack of Voting Could Also Be An Indication of Political Health
Consider this. If people are reasonably happy with their lives, why would they go out of their way to change something they’re already content with? In other words, low rates of registration may indicate that people are reasonably well satisfied with how the country is governed.
But what if the U.S. government suddenly passed a law that made it illegal for anyone to purchase more than $50 of food a week. How well would that go over? How likely would previously un-engaged or inactive Americans perk up, act out, and vote?
Quite likely right?
And that’s the point. As much as Americans bicker, complain, protest and the like, their low turnout in the one form of participation that actually matters tells the real story. People are still moderately content with their lives and those governing their lives. That or they are just grossly complacent—-which in some cases may be true—but my sneaky suspicion is that Americans would respond should something extreme happen.
Which begs the question. I’d say the events of the coronavirus could be considered extreme, how about y’all?
Which leads to the next question: How will the events of the coronavirus affect elections and political mobilization come November?
These are just a couple little nuggets of information that I hope whet your appetite to learn more. Why are Americans so complacent—more so than other countries—when it comes to voting? Why the young? Will the politics connected to the coronavirus be enough to mobilize the American public? And for what cause?
Things to ponder, watch and consider as November approaches.
The Liberty Belle