Suffolk University

Voter Turnout in the US

Signs say “Let Every Vote Count” And “This is America. Count every vote.” CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

The globe is in the midst of election season — India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Israel, Spain, Panama, and many other countries all gear up to organize their respective elections. Recently, I had the opportunity to exercise my right in a country that is geographically located 18 hours away from Indonesia. The line entering the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in stretched all the way around the block. The streets of New York were flooded by eager Indonesian voters. As the US 2020 presidential elections garner more attention, my experience voting for the first time inspired me to explore voter turnout contemporary variables in the US.

Voter turnout and democracy are two different yet intertwined elements within the realm of politics. There is a consensus among political commentators that democracy plays an integral role in determining voter turnout, especially in developed countries such as the United States, and in a few selected third world countries. The stability of a democratic system and the willingness of power holders to operate within the requirements of democracy determine the willingness of eligible voters to participate in the voting exercise even though it is a constitutional requirement for eligible voters to exercise their democratic right by voting. Often, the manner in which holders of power play to the tune of democracy determines the trend of voter turnout; in this case, when a nation’s leader seeks to promote democratic ideals, citizens will be willing to echo their political voice through the voting exercise; in this case, high voter turnout will be witnessed. Conversely, when a nation’s top leadership show little concern for democracy, low voter turnout will become a societal norm. In this way, it is apparent that the level of democracy that prevails in a particular country affects voters’ perception of the polling exercise; an indication that voter turnout bears significant impact on the US’s democracy.  

The Rise of Trump Seen as a Mock to Populism

In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump has heightened political rhetoric as political pundits, as well as US citizens, believe that Trump does not seek to preserve the democratic ideals of the nation. As mentioned before, threats to democracy have manifested in different countries besides the United States. The electoral success of the “Five Star Movement” in Italy as well as “Alternative for Germany” has only fueled democratic erosion in such countries. Other western countries such as Hungary, Poland, among other European nations are struggling with the problem of democratic erosion where topmost holders of political power exhibit behaviors that project their unwillingness to preserve a democratic society. The erosion of democracy in the mentioned countries has translated into low voter turnout, which has contributed to democratic decay in modern society. Often, populism ideology is used to appeal to ordinary citizens to exercise their democratic right through the ballot. However, the victory of Donald Trump is perceived to show the nation’s disregard of the interests of ordinary class; the current political environment tends to favor the elite; thus, this adversely affects voter turnout among the ordinary Americans.

A Game of Cards by the Political Class

Under Trump’s presidency, the country has faced significant crises of governance in recent years. A growing number of Americans and observers consider the American political system as dysfunctional, despite the belief that political influencers are not doing enough to alleviate the decay in governance in the country. In this regard, a significant percentage of US citizens perceive their leaders as increasingly unable to address the fundamental policy challenges facing the country. Trump’s administration has faced immense criticism on the manner it has handled the immigration issue. Although the cause of this sort of polarization cannot be explained by an exploration of the current generation of political leaders, it is important for the holders of influential political positions such as the presidency to exhibit behaviors that reflect their willingness to serve interests of the polarization. Thus the perceived unwillingness of the political class to influence positive reactions among voters has resulted in low voter turnout in the country in recent times.

Drop in Voter Turnout in the US

From recent and current political events indicate a radical fall in voter turnout in the United States. Pew Research Center established that the US trails most developed countries in voter turnout, a factor that is widely associated with the deteriorating state of political democracy in the country. About 55.7% of the voting age population in the United States cast their votes in the 2016 presidential election. While the Census Bureau figures indicate a slight increase in the number of voters when compared to those who cast their ballot in the 2012 presidential election. Additionally, the findings report that the turnout is lower than the number recorded in the 2008 election. The large voter turnout recorded in the 2008 election was down due to the positive perceptions people had of Barack Obama; in this case, a large number of people believed in his ability and willingness to uphold democracy, and this attracted a high voter turnout.

Fake News? Or

The aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election has witnessed an intense debate regarding the role of media in influencing voting patterns; in this case, it is believed that certain popular media platforms influence the democratic process. Tech-journalists play a critical role in popularizing the widely shared media aspect in the buildup to the 2016 presidential election. In particular, Facebook was allegedly used to influence voter decision during the presidential election, as it was used to disseminate propaganda to sway the voting patterns of the electorate. Moreover, the debate concerning the possibility of Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election is perceived to have changed the notion of voters as far as the issue of political democracy is concerned. Notably the current political realm has disoriented voters’ perception of political democracy; in turn, this has resulted in low voter turnout during elections. This outcome indicates that there is a strong correlation between democratic erosion and low voter turnout. Facebook is reported to have revealed details of user accounts towards the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections; thus, the information was used to influence voters’ decisions. As a result, this resulted in the erosion of democracy in the US.   

1 Comment

  1. Megha Bhattacharya

    May 10, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    While I generally agree with the overall argument of this blog, I think that it ignores the surgical use of voter suppression and obstruction deployed in the US. There are still so many structural and systematic barriers to voting and I would love to see the article explore the regressive policies framed by America’s advanced development. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the democratic erosion that has occured.

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