With the enthusiasm and attention being paid to this year’s election, I find it increasingly odd the way America’s new-found interest in such a fundamental feature of our democracy is being characterized by the corporate “news” media. On this morning’s Today show, this caricature took on a new face – American voters are “obsessed” with politics to a pathological degree and need help immediately.
I won’t blame you if you didn’t make it all the way through the segment. I had a hard time watching as my extremely healthy and long-overdue “obsession” with politics was painted as a character flaw. Where have these folks lived for the last 40 years that an American political awakening is denigrated as a psychological condition in need of a support group? I can’t name a single more important development in my lifetime that compares to millions of people waking up to the fact that their vote does indeed matter.
Rather than telling voters to seek help, the media should be encouraging us to continue dissecting the issues and contacting our representatives and staying connected to our communities and looking for new ways to get involved. We have an enormous opportunity this year to completely change the face of our political landscape, hence forever changing the face of our nation. The American voter can finally assert its rights, roles and responsibilities under the Constitution in a way never done before because not long after the civil rights movement ensured everyone had the right to vote, nobody asserted that right. This is really the only way to ensure that elected officials live up their responsibilities as well. Our system isn’t broken because of lobbyists or corporations or even corrupt politicians. They are symptoms of a larger problem. We had a great system that continued to improve over a period of nearly 200 years. Problem is, four decades ago we were convinced that politics didn’t matter, following a period of traumatic events, and the American electorate went to sleep.
We didn’t wake up until this year.
Turnout for general elections rarely gets above 60% in America, rarely above 40% for mid-term elections or the non-presidential election years if you are unfamiliar with the term. The average turnout for primary elections is under ten percent on most years and in most places. In 2006, after widespread dissatisfaction with Washington DC and the policies our country was pursuing, turnout was a dismal 43% and very little changed. This year has been drastically different. Already, primary turnout is in the 30% range for most states, three times the normal rate. Should that translate in a similar fashion to the general election, we could see a national turnout at unprecedented levels. I am guessing in the 75% range. This would be in keeping with other advanced democracies (and some not so advanced democracies) from around the world.
This isn’t obsession. It’s survival.