Boy, the media just keeps putting out more and more fascinating food for thought. Here’s another one; voter turnout was exceptionally low. According to the National Post It would seem so many people just couldn’t be bothered to vote.
But what if voter apathy is not the most likely explanation?
As the article says,
…the people who could have voted but chose not to vastly outnumbered those who cast a vote for Clinton, Trump or a third-party candidate.
First off, how much did voter turnout impact the two major parties? This is a slightly different question than voter turnout, per se, but roll with me for a moment. Let’s take a look at some previous elections, going back to 2004. Per Wikipedia, these are the combined votes cast for the two major parties:
2004: 62,040,610 + 59,028,444 = 121,069,054
2008: 69,498,516 + 59,948,323 = 129,446,839
2012: 65,915,795 + 60,933,504 = 126,849,299
And in this most recent election:
2016: 60,375,961 + 61,047,207 = 121,423,168
That’s almost as low as back in 2004, even though it’s over a decade into the future, and the population has grown considerably. According to Wikipedia, the current population of the USA is around 324,954,000 and back in 2000 (the closest year to 2004 for which data is provided) the population was 281,421,906. Not all citizens are eligible to vote, obviously, but it still isn’t hard to see that the percent of Americans who cast their votes for the two major parties has shrunk from 43% (121,069,054 / 281,421,906) down to 37% (121,423,168 / 324,954,000).
[I know, this isn’t the right way to do the math. It should be votes cast as a percent of eligible voters, not votes cast as a percent of the total population. This math is just a lot quicker to do, and still gives a relative picture of how things have changed.]
But that’s only part of the picture. In this election a more significant share of the votes went to independents. Wikipedia reports that it is estimated that 134,500,000 votes were cast but, as shown above, the two major parties only received 121,423,168 votes. That’s 90% of votes, which means about 10% of the votes went to independents. By comparison, back in 2004 a total of 122,294,846 votes were cast, of which 121,069,054 went to the two major parties. That’s a total of 99%; only 1% going to the independents. You have to go back to the elections of 1992 and 1996 when Ross Perot was running as an independent to find elections with so many votes being diverted away from the two major parties.
But this election lacked any single independent who was stirring things up to any significant degree; nobody like Ross Perot. Instead, the votes seemed to go to a variety of independents without any single favourite (though Johnson / Weld came out with the most).
So voter turnout was on the lower side, and voters were less likely to choose one of the two major parties. The fact that voter turnout was low is open to a number of explanations, and overlapping factors; voter apathy is just one of the possible explanations.
Let’s suppose that explanation is correct; let’s suppose that voters really just didn’t care about the election as much as they probably should have. That makes me scratch my head even more about all those people who are protesting the results, and causing so much trouble.
What are protests likely to accomplish? Honestly, if the general public just doesn’t care enough about what’s going on, do you really think that stopping traffic, vandalizing property and whatever else the protesters are up to is really going to make a difference? Not likely. You cannot fight apathy with a megaphone.
Protesters should find another way to engage an apathetic public because apparently screaming and yelling like spoiled children isn’t doing the trick.
Voter protest, possibly
What if the lack of votes for the two major parties was actually a protest against two flawed candidates? After all, not only did fewer people vote, but more people voted for somebody other than representatives of the two major parties. The combined message – either stay home or pick somebody else – could be interpreted to mean, “these options suck!” Rather than apathy, the low turnout could have been intentional, based on careful consideration.
I’m not American, but I got the distinct impression that if I lived South of the border I might very well have stayed home that night. When the election process is as bizarre and immature as this last one appeared to have been, and the candidates seem to both exhibit less-than-desirable character traits, I certainly would be tempted to protest the options by either skipping out entirely, voting for an independent, or spoiling my ballot.
Rather than chalking the voter turnout to apathy, I would seriously investigate the possibility that the election results may have been largely inspired by voter frustration. In a nation of over 300 million people these two candidates are seriously the best they could come up with?
End of the world? Yeah, right.
Another factor in all of this is that the public apparently did not interpret this election as the end of the world to be avoided. If the turnout was due to apathy then clearly they were not moved by any apocalyptic talk; they still didn’t care enough to show up.
And if the low turnout was due to voter protest, then apparently they were still willing to let things unfold however they unfolded, without input from them. In this case they would have considered it more important to cast their “vote of silence” as a protest through non-participation, than it would have been to participate and give the false impression of supporting whoever won.
But this less-than-apocalyptic concern for the results of this election flies in the face of so many voices who were raising this election up as some kind of pivot point that would determine whether America survived to see another day or crashed and burned like the Roman Empire. Both sides seemed to be screaming, “vote for us, or else,” though I would argue that message was slightly more shrill from the Democrats (more in another blog). This was being cast as an election, the importance of which would supersede all past elections, and the results of which would determine whether all previous elections were for naught.
The media sure seems to have hopped on board this doomsday theme, as a recent MacLean’s article demonstrates. Though I’m no longer actively involved in social media, I have been led to believe that the mainstream media’s doomsday theme was vastly overshadowed by social media’s take on the issue. If we know anything about social media we can confidently know that there is no scandal so irrelevant – no cause so obscure and misguided – that the Twitter-verse won’t erupt in moral indignation on a scale and passion surpassed only by the scale and passion of the collective Nerd-gasm the inevitably follows the screening of a new Star Wars trailer. I can only fathom how many veins have been burst on Twitter since November 8.
And yet, despite all the hand wringing of the media, and the 140 character hellfire-and-brimstone prophecies of social media, a sizable number of Americans shrugged their shoulders at these so-called voices of the people and responded, “meh.” Or, perhaps their response was to wash their hands of the whole thing in protest instead of voting to avoid the apocalypse; an apocalypse, one can only assume, they never really believed in anyway. Either way, the message of the loudest voices in media and social media went unheeded. All the sway and influence the media and social media think they possess… well… maybe not so much.
As I blogged previously, this election showed that feminists don’t understand women, and the valiant protectors of minorities don’t understand minorities. Apparently it also showed that the media (mainstream and social) don’t actually resonate with, or reflect the views of, the general public as much as it is often assumed that they do.
There is Twitter, over there, and there is reality, over here. We know that reality is aware of Twitter; we’re not so sure about the other way around.