By Grace Reno
With the 2020 election less than a year away, there is nothing else in the United States that causes as much tension or is quite as polarized as American politics. I suspect that even my mentioning the word ‘politics’ has caused some strong opinions to come to mind. Coming from Atlanta, which is seen as the Democrats’ safe haven in the notoriously conservative state of Georgia, the importance of voting has long been instilled in me. It has always been the residents of Atlanta against the rest of the state, making it a largely polarized state. With the 2020 election fast approaching, it is more important than ever for individuals who ‘don’t care’ about voting or are not registered to take action. Moving from Atlanta to Goucher College, located outside of Baltimore, has only strengthened my belief that voting in elections is not only a privilege of being a U.S. citizen, but is necessary.
One of our fundamental rights and ideals as a U.S. citizen is the right to vote for who we as a nation want to lead us. It is a right that is not available to individuals in numerous other countries (Powell). In the 1960’s and 70’s voting had a lot more enthusiasm connotated with it, whereas now a lot of people see it as less important, putting things such as errands above making sure they can vote a priority (Woodard). In 1964, sixty-four percent of Americans were voting in the presidential elections. However, by the 1988 election that percentage dropped to fifty-seven percent (American Voter…). The question is, what is to account for the decline in American voting? One popular theory is the “alienation” theory (Reinhold). Before the ‘64 election voter turnout was at an all time high. This could be due to the fact that at that time, American citizens wholeheartedly believed in the democratic political system, and that it would yield the results that the people wanted. However, that all changed after “Vietnam and years of Watergate scandal and other political rot, the electorate is turned off, cynical, distrustful of government, uncertain that their votes make much difference” (Reinhold). Thus, the alienation theory. If the government can foster a more trusting relationship with the American public, instilling the belief that one’s individual vote does matter, then an increase in voter turnout may result.
Regardless of which state one lives in, if you waive your right to vote, you are waiving one of your most important rights as a citizen. Additionally, according to Gladu, since the 2016 election, Donald Trump has divided several groups of voters. Trump, as the perfect populist package, attempts to appeal to so many different voter pools, that his philosophies as a whole are never cohesive (Schneider). As Schneider says, “He’s conservative on social issues (immigration). Liberal on economic issues (trade). And isolationist on foreign policy (military intervention).” Thus, in recent elections many states became more ‘purple’ (a mix of democrat and republican) rather than strictly ‘red’ or ‘blue’ making it more important than ever to vote if one is voting blue. In addition, voter turnout in the United States is significantly lower than other developed countries, and the idea that if one lives in a blue state they don’t have to vote could be even more detrimental to United States voter turnout (Gladu).
A large percent of individuals living in notoriously blue states such as California and Washington state believe that their votes are simply a raindrop in the ocean, and that whether they vote or not, the outcome will not change. Woodard states that “the average chronic nonvoter is a married, nonreligious white woman between 56 and 73 who works full time but makes less than $50,000 a year. She is most likely to identify as a moderate, lean toward the Democratic Party, get her news from television and to have a very unfavorable impression of both political parties and President Donald Trump. She has a 77 percent chance of being registered to vote and says she doesn’t because she doesn’t like the candidates but claims to be certain she will vote in November.” Simply put, these people are not voting because they have the privilege not to need to. According to the LA Times,California has been a historically blue state since the 1992 election in which the state voted in favor of Bill Clinton. Ever since that 1992 election, the state has stayed blue, by a large margin, as 62% of the state voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election (PPIC). Therefore, why should one more democratic vote even matter?
It is extremely important for candidates to target these ‘chronic non-voters,’ as if one does motivate this group of people, they may have the power to swing the election. Which is how Trump was able to break through the “blue wall” in the eastern United States and win the election (Woodard). This is because he appealed to rural America, which is not typically done. This is also how Obama won the 2008 election, flipping North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana (Woodard). These blocs of people are going to be extremely important in the 2020 election, as they could be a deciding factor.
Additionally, throughout my time at Goucher thus far, I have met far more people than ever before who don’t see the importance in casting their ballots during election season. In my experience, the majority of people I’ve encountered at Goucher lean towards the more liberal side of politics, similar to those in the older (age) demographic mentioned previously, who are typically the non-voters. There are constantly events being organized by the school which relate to current societal and political issues, such as climate change walks and democratic debate watching parties. That being said, because many students enrolled at Goucher come from blue states, the importance of voting was never emphasized, as the odds were typically in their favor in the first place.
In summation, although one individual vote might not make the difference in an election, it is when this mentality takes over an entire population that it becomes dangerous. Because the idea that one vote doesn’t matter is so common in the United States, it has led to millions of people abstaining from voting, which does make a difference. Though voting democratic now is not guaranteed to yield a democratic president, there is still a cumulative impact, making the number of democrats higher and higher each year. It is important to recognize that voting is a building energy and more about the practice than the outcome, as, if more Americans continue to vote every year, the overall impact will be extremely beneficial. Furthermore, if Americans encourage and foster voter enthusiasm, similar to trends in the 1970s, voter turnout could skyrocket. Even in states like California, which has the largest number of electoral college votes, if the chronic non-voters of this country start casting their ballots, there is no telling what the outcome of the upcoming election could be.
“After Decades of Republican Victories, Here’s How California Became a Blue State Again.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com/projects/la-pol-ca-california-voting-history/.
“California’s Political Geography 2020.” Public Policy Institute of California, www.ppic.org/publication/californias-political-geography/.
Gladu, Alex. “Blue-State Voters Must Turn Out On Election Day.” Bustle, Bustle, 24 Oct. 2016, www.bustle.com/articles/191165-does-my-vote-matter-if-im-in-a-blue-state-your-states-political-alignment-shouldnt-deter.
Powell, G. Bingham. “American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective.” American Political Science Review, vol. 80, no. 1, 1986, pp. 17–43., doi:10.2307/1957082.
Reinhold, Robert. “Voter Turnout Has Been Declining Steadily Since 1960.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Sept. 1976, www.nytimes.com/1976/09/26/archives/voter-turnout-has-been-declining-steadily-since-1960-just-half-an.html.
“What Democracy and Voting Rights Look Like Around the World.” Global Citizen, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/its-2016-here-is-the-state-of-voting-rights-around/.