I wrote this back in October of 2014 for an e-zine titled The Chicago Progressive. Since then the exact numbers have changed, but the essentials pointed out haven’t.
These are strange days. A vast majority of Americans disapprove of the work that Congress is doing. On the other hand, that same majority appears unwilling to do anything to change Congress. To better understand this we’re going to need to (shudder) look at some numbers.
According to a September Gallup poll just 14% of voters approve of how Congress is doing its job while 82% disapprove and 4% have no opinion. The last time that the Congressional approval rating was above 50% was in April 2003. Since then there have been five Congressional elections and we’re approaching the sixth. Five opportunities to improve, but it doesn’t. Strange days, indeed.
Based on the most current data there are approximately 206 million people in the US who are eligible to vote. Only around 146 million of those are registered, though. This means that 29% of the people who legally could vote actually can’t. That’s a pretty large percentage. What’s more interesting is the number of those who are registered that took the time to cast votes for Congress. Over the course of those last five elections 51% of registered voters voted in Senate races and 72% voted in House contests. I know that these are a lot of numbers, but stay with me for a while longer. I’m almost to the punchline.
If you take the time to crunch it all down what you find is that barely 36% of the electorate voted for Senator and 51% of those eligible to vote bothered to vote for Representatives. The legislative course of what has been argued to be the greatest democracy ever created is being decided by, essentially, a minority. The majority – those who sit back and watch on Election Day – simply gripe about how bad Congress is. What the heck is going on?
There has been plenty of ink and a lot of electrons spent on the subject of voter apathy. Of all the possible explanations, I think that the one cited most often and my least favorite is that voters feel that none of the candidates is a good choice. Here’s a little secret for you. One of the candidates in every Congressional challenge is going to win election and take office. That’s the way that the system works. Your choice may be a matter of determining who would be the least bad rather than who would be best, but sometimes life is like that. Psychologists call this an avoidance-avoidance conflict.
While there are so many who don’t vote, but who do whine, there’s a small group who see the opportunity to press their agenda by getting their candidates seated. Those people are effectively creating your future. If you don’t like the sound of that, then you’d better take personal action to change it. Here’s a warning, however. You will be forced to look closely at and consider a lot of messy, conflicting issues and then you will be forced to make a decision. Deal with it.
This article © 2014 by John Zielinski
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