Republicans are claiming that they have the mandate of the voters to govern after their midterm victories two weeks ago. Well, that is how our system works, or is supposed to work. In practice, though, our election results might not definitively reflect what the people want.
This is especially true of these midterms, which saw the lowest turnout since World War II at less than 37 percent. At best, this is reflective of only the more dedicated voting blocs. But even for those who do vote, the choices they made may not be truly representative of their beliefs.
Polls often tell a different story about what people want than the officials they elect. Probably the most high-profile example of such disparity is Obamacare: the name is viewed very negatively, but everything under the law is very popular, and people who live where the law was fully implemented love their new insurance. Polls similarly show a majority of the public supports immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, even a seemingly controversial assault weapons ban.
And yet, they don’t vote that way.
One conclusion might be that polls are only representative of a sample of the population, but then, the same can be said about an election where only slightly more than a third of the electorate voted. A more likely explanation: people vote without knowing exactly what they’re voting for.
It’s easy to say people vote for attitude and personality more than issues, and that’s probably true to a certain degree. But as someone who reads and follows the issues and candidates for even small local offices as much as I can, I can honestly say voter misinformation goes beyond simply not paying close attention. While voting this Election Day, even I didn’t know at least half of the people running on my ballot. Candidates for certain Lake County offices had little to no coverage in local papers and not even so much as a yard sign as far as name recognition.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gone to vote and had this reaction to their ballot. I'd imagine most people probably just select the party with which they identify…which might partially explain why so many incumbencies rarely budge and issues rarely make any headway.
Low information and low turnout are both bad enough, but put together, it not only explains why American democracy is beyond dysfunctional, but makes you wonder how it ever wasn’t. And it’s a problem without any apparent solutions. I mean, how do you get the majority of the electorate to care about the issues enough to vote but not get taken in by empty campaign platitudes?