In western democracies, there is a commonly held belief that voter apathy poses a concern as it is believed to lead to less legitimate government.
According to Bernard Berelson, democracy in the USA is flawed due to voter apathy, which refers to eligible individuals not participating in elections. In recent years, there has been a worrying decrease in voter turnout. In 1996, over 50% of eligible citizens did not vote in the Presidential election, leading to Bill Clinton’s reelection instead of Bob Dole.
On the other hand, some argue that voter apathy can have its benefits. This is because it encompasses individuals who are uninformed and willingly choose not to vote. Furthermore, critics of mandatory voting in democratic societies contend that many people abstain from voting voluntarily due to their contentment with the existing system. The objective of this essay is to analyze the main reasons behind voter apathy and assess its influence on American democracy. Those against the American electoral system assert that it plays a role in fostering voter apathy.
The American system is highly disproportionate as it follows a ‘winner takes all’ approach, except in two states. The Electoral College system, which was established in Article II of the Constitution and amended by the 12th Amendment in 1804, dictates that the representative with the highest number of votes in each state will receive all of that state’s Electoral College votes. Therefore, the votes of other representatives hold no significance. This flaw contradicts the democratic principle of governance by the people, devaluing a significant portion of the nation’s vote and disregarding supposed minorities. Consequently, it aligns with the concept of a tyranny of the majority.
The system discourages independent politicians as it is unlikely for them to win a popular vote in a single state, thus fostering a two-party structure. Some argue that change is necessary due to the system’s origin from technological limitations during the USA’s establishment. Despite resolving communication issues, the US government still adheres to this outdated system. Controversy arose in the 2000 election when George W. Bush secured the Electoral College vote with 271 seats, despite Al Gore winning the popular vote.
The decline of American democracy goes against America’s efforts to advance democratic values globally. In contrast to nations like Italy, Austria, Belgium, and Australia, where voter turnout rates surpass 85%, the American system should learn from these countries and their electoral systems in order to adapt and improve. The American electoral system has resulted in a rise in voter apathy, which ultimately weakens American democracy by diminishing the importance of each individual’s voice within a genuinely democratic structure.
One reason for voter apathy in the USA is the alienation of the electorate, which can be attributed to diverse demographics such as race, age, income, and education levels. These differences often make individuals feel disconnected and isolated when it comes to understanding the importance of their vote in any election. The high population of over 313 million people further contributes to this sense of alienation. However, a lack of political education also plays a significant role in fostering this feeling. It is evident that those with higher education are more likely to actively participate in political activities within America.
States with above-median average education levels (59.4% participation rate) in Presidential elections have a higher voter turnout compared to states with below-median average education levels (54.8% participation rate) . This indicates that inadequate knowledge on the subject might contribute to disinterest in elections. Likewise, there exists a correlation between income and political engagement—individuals with higher incomes are more inclined to participate.
One reason for questionable justification is that policies can have a greater effect on wealthy individuals compared to those who are poor. This is especially true when it comes to tax changes, which impact both high-income and low-income earners. Additionally, welfare policies have a significant influence on individuals with lower incomes. According to previous exit polls, 86% of people earning over $75,000 participate in elections, while only 52% of those earning less than $15,000 take part . Furthermore, older adults tend to have higher rates of election participation, with likelihood increasing until the age of 65.
The data from the 2012 Presidential election reveals a significant impact of ethnicity on voter abstention rates in the USA. African Americans and Hispanics exhibit particularly high rates of non-voting, with only 13% of African Americans and 10% of Hispanics engaging in voting . This implies that these groups believe their values are not sufficiently represented in policy decisions and are unmoved by campaign efforts from any candidate. Furthermore, this situation raises concerns about the democratic nature of the USA, as it indicates continued predominance of white males in political proceedings.
The rightward movement of the Republican Party (GOP) has caused moderate voters to feel alienated. This shift was influenced, in part, by the publicity surrounding Sarah Palin and Ron Paul in recent years. The trend became particularly apparent and widely discussed after the 2012 election due to its perceived impact on Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful campaign. The Democrats took advantage of this shift by mocking the Republicans’ views on welfare and portraying them as labeling individuals receiving benefits as “deadbeats.” Similarly, when it comes to immigration, the GOP became associated with mass deportation despite their actual stance aiming to reduce immigration without expelling current legally residing immigrants in the USA.
Due to their opposition to big government, women in the electorate were marginalized and felt disconnected from democracy, resulting in a lack of engagement. This trend of voter apathy is widespread in midterm and local elections across the United States, surpassing even the levels witnessed during Presidential elections every four years.
The low voter turnout for local elections, despite their significant impact on the daily lives of the electorate, is commonly linked to a lack of substantial media attention. In the 2010 midterm elections, only 40.7% of voters participated .
While the 2008 Presidential election was significant in making history with Barack Obama becoming the first black President, the public’s enthusiasm for the midterm elections is comparatively lower. This lack of excitement indicates that people perceive the midterms as less important, resulting in participation mainly from politically active individuals like Tea Party members. However, it is worth mentioning that the 2010 midterms set a record as the most expensive in US history, surpassing $4 in expenses.
According to a graph, there is a clear correlation between voter turnout in Presidential elections and midterms. This means that as participation levels rise or fall in Presidential elections, the same pattern is observed in midterm elections. Consequently, this indicates that American democracy consistently witnesses a slight tendency among voters to engage in the widely publicized Presidential elections.
McDonald highlights the significance of voter turnout as a measure of a democracy’s well-being, prompting consideration of whether voter indifference impedes democracy. One could argue that some individuals abstain from voting because they are content with the current governance and thus see no need to participate. Conversely, people tend to be more motivated to engage when they desire change. Ultimately, the insufficient campaigning efforts by politicians and the lack of media attention contribute to low political participation outside presidential elections. The removal of restrictions on personal funding for parties and politicians in the early 2000s underscores the value placed on financial support.
The evidence collected suggests that insufficient funding is the cause of voter apathy at the political level. The government had anticipated that making changes to this act would lead to greater participation in the Presidential elections. As a result, the government’s attempts to decrease voter apathy can be viewed as an acknowledgement that it harms democracy in the USA. Furthermore, the evidence demonstrates that voter apathy exists across all levels and arises from voters feeling disconnected or thinking their vote carries little weight. Ultimately, this undermines democracy since decisions made by participating voters will not accurately represent the entire nation.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair to solely place the blame for motivating the electorate on the government. There are instances where individuals opt not to vote due to laziness, and this choice should not be disregarded. While participation is vital for a functional democracy, it is equally important to acknowledge other significant factors that require attention. Politicians, for example, must fulfill their promises that swayed their supporters’ votes upon assuming power.
America’s democracy promotion on a global scale is flawed because it is absent within their own country.