In 2004, 60.4% of eligible voters cast their vote at the polls, as compared to 54.2% in 2000. In 2008, that number rose yet again, with 62.3% voting. However, in this election of 2012, America followed up its two steps forward with a step backward: only 57.5% voted. While voter turnout wasn’t as bad in 2012 as it was in 2000, it’s still concerning. Are American voters simply signaling their displeasure with the candidates by not showing up to vote, or is there a greater sense of voter apathy disengaging the public from government?
57.5% of eligible voters actually getting out and voting doesn’t sound too terrible. But think of it this way: 93 million citizens who could have voted did not. To put that in perspective, President Obama won the popular vote by about 2.5 million. It’s difficult to say if the election would have turned out differently if those people had shown up, though. The states with the lowest voter turnout were Hawaii, West Virginia, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas—all of which were decidedly Obama or Romney states before Election Day. It’s likely that people living in states where one candidate is clearly going to win are less likely to think their vote matters, and are thus less likely to actually show up to vote.
It could be that Americans don’t think their vote matters, or it could be that they didn’t want their vote to go to either Obama or Romney. The country is divided on whether or not Obama is doing well—he currently has a 51% approval rating.
This number is surprising to some, since the people who disapprove of Obama are often doggedly opposed to his policies and him as a person. A lot of anti-Obama voters have been very outspoken in their opinions, making it seem as if more of the country was opposed to the President than actually are. This election has definitely been a negative one, with two candidates that weren’t exceptionally strong: the economy is still very weak under Obama, and Romney’s track record of changing positions on important issues and being out of touch on economic woes of most Americans left both candidates slinging insults and attack ads at each other. It’s certainly possible that voters were tired of both candidates, and showed that by not casting a ballot.
It’s tempting for American voters to feel as if their vote doesn’t matter. It’s true that one vote doesn’t do much at all—it’s the mass of votes that decide the future of the country. The rationale of voting isn’t that one vote will make a difference, it’s that the crowd will make changes. A crowd, though, is composed of many individuals. A good way to look at voting is through Kant’s categorical imperative.
The categorical imperative states that people should act in ways where it would be good for humanity if every person acted in the same way. For example, lying done by one person is immoral, since if every person lied, it would be detrimental to society. Kant states that it is necessary for people to evaluate what actions they are about to do as if all of society were to do them. If an action is bad for society when everyone does it, it is also immoral on the individual level. We can relate this to voting: if all eligible voters actually went and voted for the candidate they felt would do what was best for the country, we would have a much more democratic country with leaders that were more representational than us. If all eligible voters stayed at home instead of voting, it would be highly detrimental to society. Government wouldn’t know what the people wanted, the government wouldn’t know who to put in power, and so on. If Kant were a political pundit today, he would say that those 93 million voters did America a disservice. It is every eligible voter’s obligation to get to the polls and cast their vote for who they think will be most representational of what they need.
Current voter turnout begs the question: what would the Founding Fathers think? Low voter turnout is undermining the democracy they worked so hard to establish.Votes matter. If America continues to slip in voter turnout, it’s looking at a future of a government that doesn’t represent the needs of the people.
Class of 2014 at Concordia College. Majoring in Political Science and Philosophy. Involved in Student Government and, of course, The Concordian.