We tell ourselves the political system is broken, but, is it really? There’s a famous quote, whose origin is unknown, that says, “decisions are made by those who show up.” When we take a look at voter turnout, the largest voting bloc is the 45 and older group. They show up, they get to make the decisions, so, is the system failing us, or are we in fact failing the system?
The elections in 2014 had the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. Only 36% of the voting age population turned out to vote. The total eligible population in 2014 was almost 246 million people. Although, 2014 was a midterm election and turnout is generally lower for midterms, to get the lowest voter turnout in 72 years definitely says something about the state of American politics. In comparison, 2012, a presidential election year, saw almost 54% of eligible voters cast ballots. The eligible population was around 5 million smaller at the time, though.
Of these numbers, which age group had the largest turnout? According to CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), in 2014 only 19.9% of eligible voters aged 18-29 showed up to cast a ballot. Of those, they generally preferred Democratic candidates. Had a larger percentage of the demographic shown up, the Senate and House might not have swung so wildly to the right.
In 2012, the numbers were a bit more optimistic during presidential elections, but they still left something to be desired. According to CIRCLE in 2012, 45% of those aged 18-29 turned out to vote. Of those people, they favored Incumbent President Barack Obama over Governor Mitt Romney by a 23 point margin. In contrast, 66.3% of those 30 and older turned out to vote. Our parents and grandparents had had almost 150% larger voter turnout than our generation.
In general, younger people tend to vote for progressive candidates over conservative ones, and older people generally vote for conservative candidates over progressives.
According to Pew Research, a large percentage of the population becomes more conservative with age. Given the low voter turnout of the youth, and the high voter turnout of the older and elderly, the policies and the politicians typically elected set out to gut social safety nets, and other guarantees, that help people gain a foothold in the modern economy. As a result, our parents and grandparents are electing candidates that will only make our lives harder for decades to come.
It is simple: if we don’t show up, we don’t get represented. Our political apathy sends a message that we’re fine with other people making decisions for us. Is that something we really want? Do we want to continue to allow others to make decisions about the way the country operates, or do we want to seize control and elect politicians who represent us?
Government once was the solution. It was the great equalizer of opportunity. It gave everyone an equal shot at success and didn’t benefit one group of people. In that time, we had the strongest labor unions, the largest (and healthiest) middle class, and the fastest rate of innovation (funded largely in part by the government).