Turning Out For Something, Not Against Something
When the dust settles, the 2020 United States presidential election will have record turnout. According to the United States Election Project, run by political science professor Michael McDonald, national turnout will be 66.4% with 155.8 million votes. Data scientists Rachael Dottle and Demetrios Pogkas of Bloomberg estimate a range of 68.6–72.1% turnout with 158 to 165 million votes.
The raw number of votes is the most in our history by far and you’d have to go back to 1900 to find to a better turnout percentage. As a civics enthusiast and political science nerd, I was initially quite encouraged. Despite a pandemic, we had record turnout. People care about their political system-at least at the national level!
Then I remembered what the election really was.
A classic contest of the “who do I hate less” variety.
President Donald Trump is a wrecking ball of institutional norms, who unsurprisingly during his term, increased and bolstered the strong ‘resistance’ movement that existed during his candidacy. He divided and split the Republican Party, creating the Never Trump movement and with some prominent Republicans such as former Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator John McCain’s widow Cindy supporting former VP Joe Biden.
Mr. Biden is the anti-Trump, a traditional politician closely identified with President Barack Obama. However, the Democratic Party is still reeling from the rigged primary between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from 2016. The division between the party’s progressives and moderates is huuuuuge. However, faced with the prospect of four more years of Trumpland and the moderate, Wall Street friendly Mr. Biden, the progressives plugged their noses and voted for Joe.
Four years ago, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted their American Values Survey. PRRI found that 61% of respondents believed neither the Republicans or the Democrats represented them anymore. 6/10 Americans do not feel represented by the only two viable options to win political office.
Yikes. That is dangerous.
How many voted against the other guy, instead of for their ticket and its policies?
The 2018 American Values Survey revealed that 48% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans voted for issues and candidates they cared about. 49% of Democrats voted against the president, while 46% of Republicans voted for him.
With findings like that, how long can the system sustain itself on dislike or hatred of the other guy? There’s record turnout now, but will it hold? Will there be less ignorance about how our system works? Will the glaring issues get addressed, or will they be ignored, as partisans enrich themselves and the moderates are shut out.
PRRI’s research makes me think. How many people are out there, who are invested in the process, who want to get to the bottom of problems, who care about the country, but neither of the two parties represent them? Who can’t bear to cross the box next to the Repuke or Dumbocrat?
Take my father, who has always been interested in current events and politics. He used to subscribe to multiple magazines and read some of them cover to cover.
He hasn’t voted in 20 years.
Ironically, the contested 2000 election was the last time.
Initially, when I asked him why. I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to.
The answer now is clear. Faced with politicians who no longer represent what he cares about and incredible polarization, he opts out.
Record turnout is great, but it needs to be about people voting for something, instead of against something else for it to be a long-term trend instead of a short-term phenomenon.
The first real test will be the 2022 midterms. Historically, U.S. midterms have seen 10–20% less turnout than presidential elections. Without a polarizing figure such as President Trump on the ballot, I foresee the trend continuing.
Hopefully, I’m wrong. I’d rather not be a political grinch.
What say you?