The Root of Our Apathy

Less than 37% of eligible voters showed up to polls on Election Day this year, resulting in the lowest voter participation rate our nation’s seen since 1942. Of course, as the media digested the election results in the days that followed, there was plenty of blame to go around. However, if one factor played into the low voter turnout above anything else, it was apathy, and it’s a serious problem.

While some have specifically blamed the election results on Millennials for their low-turnout, a recent Salon article by Matthew Segal and Johanna Berkson made the case that politicians haven’t given young Americans a reason to go to the polls because they’ve failed to take strong stands on the issues that young people care about.  Though true, the article fails to recognize the broader problem, which is that the apathy felt by Millennials isn’t simply limited to young Americans. At the end of the day, both political parties have given voters a plethora of good reasons to turn their back on our democracy.

The fact is, Americans have grown exhausted by the hyper-partisan culture that’s evolved in recent years.  Recent polling by Gallop has shown that a larger percentage of Americans have come to self-identify as independent rather than associate with either major political party. Simultaneously, the percentage of independent voters who identified as likely to vote has dropped by 19 points since 2010.

The good news is that the apathy shown by Americans in the 2014 general election has provided both major political parties with an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of Americans in 2016.  Senator Rand Paul, who is widely expected to run for President in the next federal election, has already taken a number of positions which may not sit well with some divisions of the Republican base, but which really resonate with libertarians, independents, and young voters.

While addressing the public policy interests of independently-minded voters will be essential to the success of candidates in 2016, fixing the political apathy that has overtaken America will require a number of important legislative reforms.  Unfortunately, the possibility of reforming our democratic processes is unlikely because the parties that control our democracy have a nasty habit of putting the best interests of themselves over the best interests of American people.

For example, a number of laws passed in recent years by Republican state legislatures have been specifically crafted to suppress voter turnout among young, poor, and minority voters in some states. Similarly, the partisan gerrymandering implemented in a number of states by both parties has left millions of Americans with a legitimate perception that their vote won’t make a difference. And despite the fact that polls indicate that more than 80% of Americans believe that the redrawing of Congressional districts should be controlled by an independent, non-partisan commission, the fact that both political parties benefit from crafting Congressional districts to their own advantage has ensured that neither party is likely to give up that said power anytime soon.

To embrace the opportunity presented by the political apathy that has swept the nation, one of the two parties needs to do is give moderate independents something to believe in. However, should both parties neglect this opportunity, it’s entirely possible that America could see the rise of an independent candidate or third political party willing to stand up for the best interest of America over that of either party.

Note: This post was originally published on on November 18, 2014. 

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