Those who vote in presidential elections often describe the action as being part of their civic duty; it’s something every good citizen must do. Others consider voting to be a right, and elections are something which every American should participate in. After all, they remind us, not everyone has this right in other countries. Still, there are others who see voting as both a duty and a right, as if it could be both at the same time.
So when voter turnout was abysmally poor during last week’s primaries in Kansas and Missouri, many were upset. Talk radio hosts, Internet pundits, and members of the media all commented on the low participation rate, and quite a few were disturbed by the numbers. Kansas City, Missouri for instance, had a voter turnout of only 15%. Now, it’s generally understood that primaries and midterms have lower voter participation rates than presidential election years, so this ought not to surprise anyone, but there is some hope this year’s elections will have the lowest turnout of the last fifty.
When asked by USA Today and Suffolk University why they’re not planning to vote this November, respondents answered that: “They’re too busy. They aren’t excited about either candidate. Their vote doesn’t really matter. And nothing ever gets done, anyway.” All are excellent reasons, especially the last two, for they lay bare the great lie that elections solve anything. The results of the poll indicate that some 90 million Americans have no intention to vote in this year’s presidential election; let’s hope that number swells over the coming months.
Curtis Gans, who is director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, had this to say regarding why so few are expected to vote:
There’s a lot of lack of trust in our leaders, a lack of positive feelings about political institutions, a lack of quality education for large segments of the public, a lack of civic education, the fragmenting effects of waves of communications technology, the cynicism of the coverage of politics – I could go on with a long litany.
As far as a lack of civic education, this may be true, but it’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the government school systems. In every election cycle students in government schools vote on the national candidates; being homeschooled I never participated in such conditioning, but I distinctly remember my second-grade friends voting in the 1992 election for Bill Clinton. Students even hold their own elections, to choose from within their own ranks politicians who’re supposed to advocate for them with the administration, in order to get longer recess, treats in the cafeteria, and who knows what else. It’s one of the more disturbing attempts to indoctrinate children in the civic religion of democracy. But it’s not always successful.