Voter Turnout

A good friend and former colleague of mine moved back to Canada a few years ago, to accept a prestigious position. (I say “back” because he was originally from Canada. He’d married a U.S.Citizen, obtained joint citizenship, and for many years was a highly respected bioethicist at U.S. institutions of higher education.) We continue to correspond, and in the wake of Canada’s recent election, he sent me a column from a Canadian newspaper, bemoaning that election’s low turnout.

He also sent the results of a Google search for turnout percentages in both the U.S. and Canada. (You know what’s coming, don’t you??) Here’s a portion of his message:

I did find it charming that the article bemoaning low Canadian turnout (which this year was a historical low at ~58%) is still significantly higher than in the US. 
Apart from the Trump v Hilary election in 2016 when it was 50%, the last time US voter turnout was above 50% was in 1912 if I am reading the charts correctly. 
Worth pondering, eh?

The newspaper article quoted Canadian political observers on the possible reasons for what the Canadians considered “depressed” turnout. The pandemic was one possibility, and attitudes about the need for this particular election were also mentioned. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

“We’ve historically had really high trust in our democratic institutions, in our election process … and I think that the challenges that they faced in this election are going to take some time to rebuild confidence in our elections.”

That prompted me to consider just where we are in today’s U.S. If turnout depends upon trust in the integrity of the electoral system, what can we expect in the wake of the GOP’s Trumpian assault on that integrity?

If a decision to vote requires trust– trust that one’s vote will count, trust that the election is being honestly run, trust that there is a meaningful difference between the candidates for office, trust that the people who’ve earned your vote will do their best to follow through on their promised agendas–what happens when a significant portion of the GOP believes, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that voter fraud is rampant and the 2020 election was rigged?

It isn’t just trust in the administration of elections–trust in government has been steadily ebbing in the US. The evidence goes well beyond our pathetic voter turnout figures. If that meant that we could count on a direct correspondence between low turnout and the distrust that has led to virulently anti-government sentiment, we might expect a lot of Republicans to stay home in 2022 and 2024 (and from my perspective, that would be a very good thing).

But of course, it’s never that simple.

One of the regular readers of this blog sent me a You Tube interview between a scholar with the Humphrey School of the University of Minnesota and  Stan Greenberg, the former Yale professor who’s been a Democratic pollster pretty much forever. Greenberg explained Trump’s 2016 win by pointing out that his racist appeal had generated turnout from people who’d never before voted—and according to his research, those previous non-voters remain engaged.

Evidently, they do have trust–trust that the current iteration of the GOP will protect White Christian dominance.

One of the oldest and truest rules of politics is that turnout is everything. It doesn’t matter how many Americans agree with party A or party B–as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

The only way to ensure robust turnout of voters for what is currently the only sane party is for the Democrats to pass their agenda–especially the expansive infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill–and demonstrate that government can work, that Democrats can be trusted, that the right to participate in democratic deliberation via the ballot box can be protected.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Democrats are right about everything, only that they are currently the only sane option. We are truly at an inflection point, and constitutional government is in the cross-hairs.

Meanwhile, the Earth keeps warming, the GOP is now entirely the party of the batshit crazies, and I am very afraid that the Democrats will be unable to control their circular firing squad.

The world my grandchildren will inherit looks very scary….


  1. I believe it was Noam Chomsky who asked if Americans’ lack of voting participation is because they don’t care or because they know it doesn’t matter. Both of us would choose the latter.

  2. As most of us have been repeating over and over on this blog, the Republicans MUST destroy the electoral process to the point where only their people vote. First, it’s what their donors and paymasters order them to do. Second, since they have no interest in governing in a democratic republic – again, because neither do their donors, they are compelled to embrace fascism and power over money.

    All the wedge issues that the most egregious Republicans created out of whole cloth to create this mistrust in government (SEE: Reagan, both Bushes and the latest wretch) was the only way the Republicans could exploit the rampant ignorance and social sloth of the electorate.

    As long as Democrats like Manchin and Sinema continue to be the idiots of the energy lobby, we will continue to plummet toward third-world status.

  3. I agree that the voices and leaders of the Republican Party these days have views and an agenda that seems insane at times. Many voters aligned with that Party are not “bat shit” crazy. The question is why don’t they throw the idiots out? I wish I knew. Until sane Republicans vote against the Party and give it the whipping it deserves, people who believe in conspiracies and other nonsense will run the Party.

  4. I first heard the term “circular firing squad” used by President Obama as he warned the Democrats of the dangers. I believe it was during the endless lineup of possible candidates for the presidency in 2020 during the debates. After their heated discussions during the debates; Joe Biden and Kamala Harris found enough common ground on their differences to come together strong enough to be elected, by a wide margin, to become President and Vice President.

    We learned in 2000 when George W. was appointed president after the questionable “recount” in Florida, where his brother Jeb was Governor at the time, and again in 2016 when Trump was appointed to the presidency by the Electoral College vote after losing the popular vote count. But those facts were ignored; opening the gates for Trump’s continuing demands to be returned to the White House after losing in the general election and the Electoral College vote and the continuing recounts and “audits” by such as Cyber Ninjas. Not even Trump’s pre-planned insurrection and attempts to hang his own Vice President and kidnap the Speaker of the House worked for him. Voter suppression may win it for him in 2024.

    Trump’s Republican party is still holding this country hostage due to the Democratic slim majority which is now a minority thanks to Manchin and Sinema. They are making names for themselves in the public eye with their game-playing but we may pay for it as a nation this week if they continue building their public image as turncoats and closet Republicans.

    Vernon’s final sentence should be viewed as the dire warning to all of us that it is.

    Why should we turn out to vote in upcoming elections? BECAUSE IT IS THE ONLY AMMUNITION WE HAVE TO FIGHT WITH.

  5. Perhaps it takes a hard winter to better understand why some folk choose to waller in warm guano. They are not necessarily crazy … just trying to survive.

  6. If everything I read is correct, and I’m sure a majority of it is, the next two elections may seal non-voting for millions more US citizens especially, if you live in a swing state.

    Between the gerrymandering on the front end and the suppression and legal appeals on the day of and post-election, voting will become even more farcical.

    The Oligarchy is ripping this country apart for power and control while our Media blames it on Russia and China. When the government and fourth branch of our government have become extensions of the Oligarchy, there is no point in voting in certain states. Unfortunately, Indiana is one of them.

    Here’s what I don’t grasp, Indiana GOP bragged about their reps voting against the deficit-busting bills. In contrast, they vote billions more for the Pentagon yet smile and accept the dollars coming their way to improve their community. Why didn’t they support the bills since they knew it would benefit everyone within their community? Why go on Fox lamenting how it would destroy the budget and our national security, and then go home to their districts and pose in front of local cameras when distributing the case they voted against?

    It’s a fuc*ing farce!

    It’s just like the infrastructure bill. Why are they fighting it when it will hugely benefit their constituents? None of them will reject the assistance.

    Also, when I learned that our government was attempting to murder a journalist for telling the truth against them, and all Mainstream Media keeps quiet about it, simple logic tells me they must be lying to me about what the government is doing. If they were telling the truth like Assange, they’d be freaking out over what our government and the UK have done to him.

    Again, this is basic logic and critical thinking. You don’t need to graduate from high school to figure that out, but Americans (even college-educated ones) don’t grasp this simple logic. All I hear is, “Yea, but….”

    How can you trust our institutions when you know they are lying? Not as an exception, but as a rule? It’s an Alice in Wonderland existence. If there is zero accountability, humans will do what humans do.

    If you’re in a classroom of kids and place a Hershey bar on the table and turn out the lights for 5 minutes, guess what will happen to that candy bar?

    And when it’s gone, and you ask if anyone took it and ate it, they would all say NO. LOL

    We’ve got many kids in Washington watching over the Candy Store, and the lights are off – nobody is watching them, and there are no consequences for their actions.

    Guess what will happen? LOL

  7. Perhaps it isn’t just that voters don’t trust the government to be honest; it’s that they no longer can trust the government to get ANYTHING done. One only has to look at the abysmal response to the pandemic to understand this. And now the budget and debt ceiling mess.

  8. I find Manchin and Sinema infuriating. For weeks now, the Democratic leadership has been asking them how much they are willing to spend and/or what they are willing to spend for. Neither has answered. They just keep saying $3.5 trillion is too much. I’m not certain either of them can divide by 10 to get the annual price tag, nor am I certain they understand that much of the money will come from increases in corporate and capital gains taxes, as well as enforcement of tax law. This should be a slam dunk for anybody with a brain. I guess that says it all.

    BTW, if the Republicans continue to block a vote on raising the debt ceiling, Biden should just invoke the 14th Amendment and raise it unilaterally.

  9. “Follow the money,” is a well known trope, and, I am sure, it applies to Manchin and Sinema.
    I have a nasty, sneaking suspicion that Manchin is going to switch parties and run for president in 2024.
    The gov’t, here, has a very long history of lying to the people about sooo much, from “Remember the Maine!” on up, that it is no surprise that people have skepticism about it.
    On the Dem. side, the DNC has clearly been favoring the “standard” flag wavers. Much as I certainly preferred Hillary over Mr. Malignancy, Bernie might actually have had a better chance to beat him, in ’16.

  10. Mitch,

    To your point about 2016: Before Bernie dropped out, he was favored to bet Trump by mid-teen percentage points. Instead, we go the MACHINE candidate (Thank you Debby W. Schultz) and the voters stayed home because she didn’t campaign in all the states (Thank you Tom Perez).

  11. GOP voters are “excited” to vote against abortion, immigrants, “defunding the police”, CRT, etc. There is zero evidence that DEM/IND voters are “excited” to vote FOR the opposite. Since the DEM party has done less than nothing lately (they will not get much credit for vaccinations), their only option is to take GOP words/actions to excite voters via fear as to what might come next…

  12. “Evidently, they do have trust–trust that the current iteration of the GOP will protect White Christian dominance.”

    What I observe is that most of us have become creatures of comfort simply because we can be. Change is uncomfortable so we wish it away unless we deem it as progress. There are only a few forces that can dislodge us from our recliners and TV and alcohol. One is to attack our faith no matter what we’ve chosen it to be. My faith is in human knowledge and my family. Another is to threaten our family’s comfort.

    A key cult strategy of Republican entertainment media was to vilify the word “progress” by identifying “progressives” as destroyers of liberty. This was done at a time when change was absolutely necessary due to the rate of conversion of limited resources into waste by too many humans living on the average too comfortably.

    Another faith that comforts many are the benefits to them of wealth redistribution up, away from workers who create it to investors who live off of unspent wealth that they have been given or earned or stolen from others. Their safety net comes from demonstrating to others that their faith, the game of who dies with the most toys, is the one that counts and the wealth that they project declares them to be winners.

    Remember faith in benefiting others often by the accumulation and spread of knowledge rather than wealth?

  13. It is my understanding that voter turn out in Indiana has been abysmal for a long time.

    I don’t know what if any effort is made to get out the vote of the young. They are often caught up in their own individual challenges and don’t seem to understand the importance of voting. And if the majority of them are democratic leaning, they may feel that voting in Indiana is an exercise in futility due to the dominance by the GOP.

    Indiana is so very Republican due to the fact that so much of Indiana is rural. They are mostly white and many of them live in the so called Bible belt which would, of course, lead them to be pro-birth, homophobic etc.

    The best we can hope for in Indiana is that most of the Republicans are moderates as opposed to QOP members.

  14. “The government”. Is it a single entity disassociated from all of us? We ARE the government. We have the ability to enforce term limits and change the course of policy at the local, state and federal level.
    When the integrity of elections is questioned, just exactly what are we doubting? The elections are conducted by those who voluntarily come forward to act as poll workers, coordinating with the County Clerk’s offices to work the precinct sites on election day, receive and count absentee ballots and report totals (verifiable by paper trails in most places). Lack of trust in the system means that the doubters are questioning the honesty of those of their own party who are conducting the elections, elections that by law must include members of both parties to confirm voter registrations.
    The question then becomes, if you don’t trust the volunteers from your own party, then who DO you trust?
    Civic ignorance undermines trust and allows misinformation to flourish even if it means eroding our own foundations. It may be too late to reintroduce civic education to counter the ignorance. The oligarchy has purchased the services of those willing to sell their souls in a perverted Faustian bargain that will surely come back to bite us all.

  15. Agree with Vernon @ 9:19 am. Bernie pointed out the flaws in our system but also offered solutions.

    Motivation to cause is vital for any organization. We saw in Vietnam the quick collapse of the Army of South Vietnam when American combat units could no longer intervene in the outcome. The collapse of our puppet Afghan Government was even faster.

    The GOP has given the Democrats the motivation with their gerrymandering, voter suppression, and extreme anti-choice positions to vote for the “D”. Add into this the GOP’s willingness to sacrifice children and teachers in schools by forbidding masks.

    Hopefully, the Independents will see the New GOP for what is bullies that will embrace violence like the Capitol Attack and remain silent.

    The New GOP voter will not be turned, for them the ends justifies the means.

  16. “In 2019, the supreme court said for the first time that there were no federal limits on how far politicians could go to draw districts to their benefit. And for the first time since 1965, states with a history of voting discrimination won’t have to get their district approved by the federal government before they go into effect to ensure they don’t discriminate against minority voters. That could make a huge difference in Texas [and likely, many, if not all GOP-controlled states], where the state has drawn districts that violate the Voting Rights Act in every decade since the law was enacted.

  17. With all due respect to your friend, those are flawed statistics.

    The Pew Research Center pegs turnout in the United States in 2020 at 66.9%, the highest turnout since 1900 when 73.7% of voting-eligible population voted.

    (Need to follow the “much longer” hyperlink in the article to get the 1900’s number.)

    Turnout was even up in 2020 by 7% over 2016. The article though does say the U.S. ranks behind many developed countries when it comes to turnout.

    Pew is measuring turnout the correct way – looking at who voted versus the number of those people eligible to vote.

    The reason why some turnout stats look lower is because they are using a comparison of the # of voters v. registered voters. You have a numerator and a denominator. The denominator in that calculation has increased dramatically, i.e. the number of voters who are registered has gone way up in the last couple decades, making the turnout numbers look artificially low. Let me explain.

    The National Voter Registration Act (“Motor Voter”), adopted in 1993, eliminated automatic purges of people for not voting. It used to be if you didn’t vote periodically, say once in a four year election cycle, you were automatically purged and had to re-register. Now the clerk must make an affirmative effort to try to reach the non-voter (usually by sending out postcards) to confirm the person is no longer in the precinct) before deleting the voter from the list. The process is cumbersome, very expensive and highly political. (Clerks and Secretaries of State who attempt to clean up the lists often end up sued or at least the target of substantial political criticism.)

    As a result of the end of the automatic purges for non-voting, and the difficulty of purging those people manually, the voter registration lists have filled up with people have have moved or have died. As a result, the number of people registered is artificially inflated. If you look at Indiana’s counties you will find that, compared to the voting age population, many of Indiana’s counties have registration rates from 85% to 100%. Sometimes over 100%. At one time, because of the lack of purges, Marion County had a registration rate of 105%.

    As someone who has worked the election, I witnessed first hand the effect of the post-1993 elimination of the automatic purges. At times, I estimated that 20% of the names of the registered voters were people who were dead or who had voted. I’m not saying those people dead people or people who had moved and thus were ineligible voted….I never once saw that happened.

    As a side note, Indiana does not a good system for canceling out previous registrations when a voter moves and registers at a new address outside the county. So some people do end up registered more than one place. A bigger problem though is getting the dead people off the list. It wasn’t unusual for widows to come in to vote and get extremely upset when they see their dead husband listed to vote year after year. They want us working the elections to take his name off the list, but we can’t do that.

    In short, turnout in the United States is not down, it’s actually up. One thing Donald Trump was very good at was encouraging Republican AND Democratic turnout.

  18. Paul – 2020 is ancient history…pre COVID…pre-Afghanistan…pre-immigrant surge…pre-gov’t running out of money…on and on..who will want to make the effort to vote? Doesn’t seem to be connected to survival anymore…DEMS need to make that the issue for ’22…

  19. Ugh, more complaints about Sinema and Manchin… People need to stop assuming that they are the only Democrats opposed to such things as the election reform bill, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, ending the filibuster, etc. They are the ones taking the heat because they are public about their opposition, but Washington reporters are saying there are several other Democrats who are opposed. Those Democratic Senators are, wisely, just letting Sinema and Machin take all the heat from the progressives.

    As far as voting goes, I have said this before and I’ll say it again, Democrats need to stop obsessing over modest changes in election laws which won’t have more than a miniscule impact on turnout, if that. They need to worry about changes to how and who counts and certifies those votes.

    Eastman’s memo should set off alarm bells. If the 2024 presidential election is going to be won by Trump, it is not going to be won at the polls, but by GOP state legislatures are going to use “election fraud” allegations to disregard popular votes in their states. Congress may refuse to count Democratic slates of electors for the same reason. Trump and his minions are laying the groundwork to do that in 2024 by pushing the “stolen election” narrative. Why are Democrats not pushing to correct the Electoral Count Act? That should be priority No. 1.

  20. Vernon,
    I appreciate your reminding me of Schultz.
    Not only did the MACHINE shoot itself in the foot with its choice of candidate, but apparently assumed that the traditional mid-western states would just mosey along and vote Democratic.
    As I recall, Bill Clinton, who used to be considered a phenomenal politician, had urged Hillary to visit this states. Damned Machine hubris!

  21. Regarding the choice of voting for Democrat or Republican, I’d like to think the choice between imperfect and insane should be easy. That it’s clearly not obvious to a lot of people is something I find deeply disconcerting.

    So, there are two conflicting dynamics. One, Trump and the GOP are now actively courting the previously-apathetic (from a voting perspective) racists, and they are now more energised about voting. Two, the distrust the GOP has engendered in the election process may convince some people there is no point in voting. I suggest that the the fact that Democrats won both Georgia Senate run-offs (after being very close but on the losing side of the ledger for the initial runs) means that the second option may be the more impactful one. If so, I hope they continue to teach their supporters NOT to vote.

  22. There used to be a total focus on winning elections with turnout. Now we are dividing our time between focussing on winning and preventing the theft of the electoral process what with a fascist Republican Party in theft mode from years in advance of elections themselves. This is what happens when such party is headed by a wannabe dictator and has neither principles nor platforms to sell to the polity and must resort to suppressive voter legislation by Republican states, a situation that cries out for federal legislation to end such fraudulent electoral tactics.

    Such a potential act is on the burner now, and that along with the passage of Biden’s 3.5 trillion bill dedicated to (for a change) the benefit of the lower and lower middle classes we could be seeing a 2021 FDR rendition of the New Deal with a reinvigorated economy and a move toward ending or at least slowing present day wage and wealth inequality.

    It is not enough to save our democracy from those who would destroy it; we must also expand it along the lines of the Nordic States both economically and politically. This country is indeed the richest country in the world; the problem is how we distribute such wealth and income between reward for work or investment for the benefit of all instead of only zillionaires who are traveling in space for fun (and ultimately profit) while we have veterans and the poor sleeping under the bridges and on the sidewalk a la Mumbai, and with massive purchases of real estate across the country by hedge and equity funds which will result soon if not already in much greater prices for homes and rentals and increases in the number of those under the bridges and on the sidewalks. Richest country in the world? By what standard of small n measurement?

    As Mammy noted in a different context in Gone with the Wind: “Tain’t fittin’; tain’t fittin’, that’s all.” Such a plantation observation has application to the immoral maldistribution of wealth and income generated by our economy today to the few rather than the many, and I think we are still in a plantation mode of politics and economics but by a different name, like “The market is always right” as our guide. Uh, how did “the market” do the job in the Great Depression? How is “the market” doing today with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour last changed in 2009? How are improved production and inflation calling not for improved wages but rather guarantees of poverty, especially with accelerating inflation and housing costs headed into the stratosphere? As Krugman rightly opines, the market is not always right. I would agree and that even when the market is “right,” who does it benefit?

    We need a new look on what to do with our money.

  23. I’m with Mssrs. Allen and Chomsky. But I think it’s even worse than a general decline in citizen’s confidence in elections, institutions and norms of a democracy. I think it’s also a general decline in confidence in the entire human race to act rationally enough and with any kind of shared purpose to support democratic principles and institutions. So I guess I’d throw Mr. Sartre into the mix with the trio mentioned earlier.

  24. Mitch D.,

    “Losing” a structure is not unusual in evolutionary biology. The lizards that “lost” their legs are called snakes. Whales “lost” their hindlimb long after they became fully aquatic. BUT, every “loss” has a vestigial structure for these things. So, to overcome a bias from those who wish to see the next slide, one must understand that these evolutionary phenomenon occur in stages over time. There are still instances, for example, where a human baby is born with an extended coccyx. Ooops.

    The dinosaurs didn’t become extinct overnight either. Even the relative paucity of progressive fossils shows that it took perhaps a million years between the great catastrophe and the last dinosaur fossil. Oh, and birds remain. They are linked directly to theropod dinosaurs. I went to graduate school with the guy who wrote the definitive work on the subject.

    The NYT is once again sensationalizing science to sell papers. When I taught science in public schools I always pointed out the timeline of evolution and geological history. Humans have been around for a scant few tenths of a percent of all the time the Earth has been in existence. So, the article about tail loss is really not worthy of an otherwise great newspaper.

  25. I marvel sometimes at how the US got to be #1 in the world, given our spotty citizenship. (And that we are still #1 is now in doubt) Thing is the United States looks suspiciously like the Trump clan….as far as 25 % of our citizenry goes…..and then there’s the percentage of our citizenry who have enabled and abetted the Trump clan in Washington, either through cowardice, greed, or stupidity. Question is are we mostly …..Trump? Just kill me now.

  26. Vernon,
    Thank you.
    I have at least a basic understanding of evolution, some bits of genetics and of embryology, having started college as a Biology major, in the early Anthopocene era. So, I understand that the changes take place over eons.
    Maybe I should have been more precise in my query, but I was interested in your take on the idea that a “single” mutation is cited as the cause of the loss. Yes, I knew that we still live among the dinosaurs, and that many, apparently, had been endowed with feathers.

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