Maybe you didn’t know all of this either. And maybe it’s because you and I are just too serious about things. Or maybe not.
Did you know that only 2 in 10 Americans know that there are 100 Senators in the U.S. Senate? Or that only 4 in 10 of us know that there are 3 branches of government (and also can name each of them)? Or that 53% of Americans don’t know who is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court or, for that matter, even name a single member of the highest court in the land? Or that a National Geographic poll revealed that 6 in 10 people, aged 18 to 24, could not find Iraq on a map?
As we rapidly approach this year’s election season, is there really any big surprise why voter turn-out continues to be so low in our nation? After all, with so many diversions to captivate our attention and occupy our minds, often with nonsense, it’s difficult to come home, pause, and give thoughtful consideration to nuclear proliferation. Or to the national security threat from our nation’s open borders. Or to the terminal consequences of increasing the national debt. In fact, as I write this, the top five trending/search topics on Yahoo’s Internet search engine are Natalie Portman, Zombie Ants, Tila Tequila, Erykah Badu, and Jay-Z. You familiar with all of these?
Admittedly, when you are working longer hours to make ends meet, it’s hard to become interested in the significance of Russia loading uranium-packed fuel rods into an Iranian nuclear power station this week. It’s just not a priority when the children have their homework to finish, baths to take, and you have to balance the checkbook. And because we’re so tired, as a nation, we just want to relax and be entertained…not solve the world’s problems, right?
Still, it’s not so much the “dumbing down” of America as it is the “numbing down” that is responsible for the continued low voter turnout facing our nation. To prove that point, you should know that 85% of adult Americans have at least a high school degree today, up from just 25% in 1940. Similarly, 28% have a college degree, which is five times the level in 1940. Today’s U.S. workforce is arguably the most educated in the world and the present 18- to 29-year-old generation will likely be the most educated in American history.
Still, in 2008, about 100 million folks never voted. This means that the United States elected its President in 2008 with the votes from only about 25% of the voting-age population. This was true in 2004, as well as in 2000. However, in 1992 and 1996, this percentage was even lower…only 23% of the voting-age population, in those elections, voted for Bill Clinton.
But why the low turn-out? Sure, you can blame television for the precipitous decline in voter turnout. After all, television became the predominant form of entertainment in the 1960s and, as television’s popularity grew, the importance of traditional, face-to-face social gatherings in the community declined. “Television is chewing gum for the brain”, said the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The same can be said today for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels.
Maybe folks are also fed up with the longer, seemingly unending campaign seasons, filled with mud-slinging; where candidates are more interested in energizing their “base”, instead of demonstrating leadership to solve our nation’s challenges through our democratic processes.
Low voter turnout may also be a product of decades of American contentment. Perhaps our country’s past prosperity has diminished the perceived significance of participating in our democratic process.
Then again, part of it is our sense of helplessness. Many may feel that they have no influence on what happens, so why bother? Unfortunately, the “why bother” is pretty widespread. In fact, the United States ranks 139th out of 172 countries in voter participation.
Regardless of the reasons, and whatever your politics this election year, just vote. Register to vote, if you are not already. And engage the privilege that is our democratic process, so that we might all preserve the promise of the American dream for future generations.
Because, very plainly, between declining voter interest and the continued erosion of accountability in government, in the words of Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”