If you meet three Americans who are of voting age and are eligible under the laws of the state in which they reside to cast ballots, two of them did not do so in the 2014 election.
In most states it is likely that the two nonvoters will be younger and poorer than the one voter—meaning that a small, older and relatively elite minority is defining not just the results of elections but the direction of the United States.
As concerns regarding the state of the nation go, this is a big one. And it ought to inspire not just complaints—as have been aired since the election—but calls to action.
According to United States Elections Project estimates, just 36.3 percent of eligible voters bothered to participate in elections where members of the US House and Senate, most governors and most state legislators and thousands of local officials were chosen. The nation’s most populous states, all of which had full federal and state ballots, saw dismal turnout: 28.5 percent in Texas, 28.8 percent in New York, 31.8 percent in California.
Only seven states (Maine, Wisconsin, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa) saw turnout in excess of 50 percent. In contrast, elections in Germany regularly see turnout in excess of 70 percent, in Scandinavia above 80 percent, in Belgium above 90 percent. “The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th in the world for average turnout,” noted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Political systems differ from country to country, and so comparisons are tricky. But some patterns are clear. Unlike countries with high turnout rates, for instance, elections in the United States are more dramatically expensive, just as campaigns in the United States run dramatically longer. Because of the declining circumstance of commercial media (especially newspapers) and the chronic underfunding of public and community broadcasting outlets, US voters have less access to consistent and high-quality coverage of campaigns.
Additionally, many US states have seen the enactment of laws that make it harder to vote, and the Supreme Court only made matters worse with its 2014 decision to undermine the Voting Rights Act. “The reason politicians ignore so many of the working poor is that they don’t vote,” argues The Root’s Danielle C. Belton. “And the reason so many of the working poor don’t vote is that certain politicians have made sure it’s as inconvenient as possible for them.”