According to a Pew Study earlier this year, Democrats have a natural lead in membership and while independents as a group are larger than either Democrats or Republicans, according to the study, they “48% identify as Democrats or lean Democratic; 39% identify as Republicans or lean Republican.” So the natural question is why did the Democrats take such a beating at the polls in 2010 and 2012?
The obvious answer is Democrats did not come out to vote. Many Americans, seem to echo this view. Forty-one percent of non-voters say that they don’t bother to vote because “my vote doesn’t make a difference anyway” And what is most disturbing is that a recent study found “that non-voters tend to be much more liberal in their economic policy views compared to voters.” Democrats loudly complain about SCOTUS’s Citizens United decision leading to the undue influence of Super PAC money and SCOTUS’s 2013 decision to eviscerate the 1965 Voting Rights Act making it easier for Republican states to enact laws making it more difficult for minorities, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic to register and to vote. In response to this problem President Obama suggested the idea of mandatory voting “believing it would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything.”
However, low voter turnout increases the effectiveness of campaign spending because money can be used to target smaller groups, which can threaten the legitimacy of policymaking in our system where Super PAC’s financed by a very wealthy few unduly influence who gets elected and ultimately the direction of policy in favor of the wealthy -because the wealthy overwhelmingly turn out to vote. In fact,
“Recent research by Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Martin Gilens suggests that the super-rich members of the top 1 and .1 percent turned out to vote in 2008 at a whopping 99 percent. This compares to only 49 percent turnout for citizens earning less than $10,000. In midterm elections, the voting gap is even more pronounced. In 2010, only 26.7 percent of citizens earning less than $10,000 voted, while 61.6 percent of those making $150,000 voted. Voter turnout is heavily biased towards high-income voters.”
As one might expect, the problem is exacerbated because “studies show that voters are better represented than non-voters. Politicians don’t have strong incentives to respond to non-voters, who are disproportionately low-income.” If our democracy had full participation and our politicians had to respond to all American voters and not just a wealthy few, the power of the Kochs and the other oligarchs would be shattered and broken- and with them, the Republican Party.
As The Huffington Post noted:
“Members of Congress are dependent on the tiniest fraction of the 1 percent to fund their campaigns. That makes them hypersensitive to the needs of that tiny minority. That in turn leads government policy, as political scientists have shown, to bend to that tiny, unrepresentative minority. That bending breaks the ability of Congress to address a whole host of fundamental problems.”
Republicans have a structural hold on the Congress – politically gerrymandered districts, which will leave them in power for years to come, creating an institution incapable of even governing itself, and certainly unable to address fundamental problems sensibly. However, as mentioned politicians respond to voters, and since studies show that non-voters tend to favor progressive policies, furthered by the fact that we (Democrats and Progressives) have a natural majority of voters – it surely makes sense that if we wish to elect progressives to address the problem of income inequality, the tawdry influence of money on our system, immigration reform, affordable housing, cost of education, climate change, Social Security, and other progressive issues and values – we need to get out and vote.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.