Why Voters Do and Don’t Vote

It’s amazing how many eligeable voters in America don’t take advantage of the priviledge and responsibility of voting.

In the 2008 presidential race, an above average 56.8% of potential voters went to the polls, which was up from 55%, 51%, and 49% in each of the 2004, 2000, and 1996 elections respectively (according to infoplease.com). Midterm elections woo far less citizens through the voting booth curtain, ranging from 36% to 38% in the last two decades.

Now that a record number of citizens receive entitlement funds from the government, one would expect the number of interested voters to increase. Those who wish to keep their government benefits would vote for candidates who promise to keep the checks coming, while those concerned with the balooning costs of entitlements will vote for candidates who promise to balance and cut the budget. Following the crescendo of partisan rhetoric, voters would vote to turn the tide of public policy in the direction of their values and views for the sake of the national vision they dream of.

Or voting numbers could decrease sharply.

Elections in newly democratic countries like Iraq reveal that voting accompanies hope. Two thirds of Iraqis voted in their 2005 elections, despite the fact that numerous groups boycotted the election while threats of violence hindered numerous parts of the nation. In 2010, Afgan voters elected the lower house of parlament with participation of well over 40% (their version of the midterm election) despite a huge degree of danger posed by violent factions.

New democracies have hope, while established ones tend to take their priviledges for granted, become disengaged, and participate less.

Don’t get me wrong: I would much rather have a person stay home than vote out of ignorance. We want voters who understand the candidates and the issues. The act of being informed is the precursor to the act of voting, and informed votors are more likely to vote than those who are uninformed… that is, if they have hope.

Hope comes from understanding the power of democratic potential; apathy comes from ignorance.  Apathy, it seems, it the primary indicator of disengaged, would-be voters. When I’m apathetic, I’m not going to stay informed, and I’m not going to vote.

The answer?  We need to understand how lucky we are to have a say in our nation’s future.  We need to watch (and pray for) nations in which citizens’ lives are managed and manipulated by a government in which they have no say or representation. We need to understand our own history, from our contsitutional founding to the military and political battles fought to secure our right to govern ourselves. We need to see coverage of new democracies basking in the glory of the ballot box, so that we more fully treasure the priviledge we have as one that many in human history have died for but few have enjoyed. We need fair-minded media to keep citizens informed while letting them think for themselves, without giving them a biased push in one direction or another. And we need creative candidates who stand out from the pack by putting country about career and party.

We understand why voters vote. Time will tell if they do.

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