[This article was originally published on December 4, 2010. However, since the 112th Congress will convene in just a few days, the math is important. Math counts -- really! Actually, it's simple arithmetic. I think the real problem, however, is not the arithmetic, but our political will. Read and wonder with me. Happy New Year, and happy 112th Congress.]
For several news cycles after the mid-term election, this was a familiar claim: “The American people have spoken.” “The American people have asked for a change.” “The American people are not happy with the direction of this country.” The American people want this or that…. On and on.
I wonder. Have the American people spoken? According to the United States Election Project at George Mason University, only about 40.3 percent of eligible voters actually voted in the November election .
Voter turnout in 2010 varied from state to state. This is no surprise. For example, in Minnesota, over 55 percent of eligible voters turned out. In New York only 32.1 percent turned out. In Arizona, 36.6 percent of eligible voters turned out.
Some Have Spoken
Across the nation on average, four out of ten eligible Americans voted on November 2. This means 6 out of 10 eligible Americans did not vote. Six out of every ten eligible Americans in this country did not speak.
I guess its fair to say, some of the American people have spoken. Or, more accurately, the voters have spoken.
Voting is essential for our political process. We rely on voting to voice our preferences – this is a good thing – and we always stand by the results. But, abiding by the results of the mid-term election is not the same as claiming “the American people have spoken.” They did not.
For the record, if you did not vote, shame on you. If you did vote, you have the right to gripe or rejoice, depending on your perspective.
An Authentic Political Process?
I think our political process would be more authentic if more of us voted. If more of us voted, we might be able to claim after an election, “the American people have spoken.” Forty percent is not the American people. Furthermore, in most states, because only a slight majority of votes were cobbled together for a victory, significantly less than 40 percent of the American people spoke about anything with consistency. For example, in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, the winner of the mid-term election received 1,995,026 votes, or 51 percent of those who voted, but only 20.8 percent of eligible voters in that state. In the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race, the winner received 1,125,636 votes, or 51.9 percent of those who voted, but only 26.8 percent of eligible voters in that state.
In short, a word to the more arrogant among us who inflate the significance of the election: Sure, the U.S. House has shifted to a Republican majority, and the U.S. Senate has become more balanced. Rightly so, based on the votes tallied. But let us view the results with reason. Let us refrain from the hyperbolic claim that the results of this election in any way represent the voice of the American people.
This much we might claim: Sadly, regardless of one’s political leaning, too few of us voted.
© Copyright by Jeffrey Y. Harlow (2010).
- http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2010G.html . An eligible voter is someone who has the legal right to vote in our country due to age and residency status. Some eligible voters chose not to register, others registered but chose not to vote. To be fair, the 40.3 percent figure is a bit higher than for previous mid-term elections, but not by much.