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Why Voters Don’t Give a Damn Anymore: Government Of the Few, By the Few, For the Fewest

| December 2, 2014

A voter. (Stepan Radibog)

A voter. (Stepan Radibog)

By Martin Dyckman

The anniversary of one of the most significant moments in our history slipped by Wednesday, largely overlooked by those of us preoccupied with a worrisome future.


It was on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery, that President Abraham Lincoln expressed the purpose of America as we like to think of it today, pledging himself and the nation to honor the fallen heroes by ensuring that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In the voting a year later — which Lincoln had doubted he would win — the people rallied to his challenge. Not only did they re-elect him; the turnout of those eligible to vote in the North and the four Border States was 73.4 percent. It puts to shame today’s summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

The government that Lincoln idealized, and for which he gave his life, is in grave danger again. Its survival is in doubt.

In the eyes of many, it has ceased already to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It has become a government by only some people for only some other people.

Barely a third of the eligible voting-age population — 36.4 percent — voted in the midterms this month, the lowest since 1942, when millions were at war or working long shifts in defense plants. This estimate accounts for all who should have registered, not simply those who did.

context floridaThese days, the non-voters include people in states like Texas, Indiana, and Wisconsin, where voter ID laws are diabolically difficult to satisfy. According to the United States Election Project, Florida performed better, at 43.1 percent, than the national average. But even in Florida, some 75,000 people who did show up at the polls cast no vote for governor, a number greater than the winner’s margin.

“Low turnout is more than a set of figures to lament; it is an indicator of deep problems within American democracy,” writes Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, who forecast the low November turnout based on apathy in the primaries.

“Contributing factors to the decline in motivation are not hard to find,” Gans writes.

Among the reasons: “campaigns that are run on scurrilous attack ads that give the citizen a perceived choice between bad and awful; one major party situated far to the right of the American center and the other without a clear and durable message; a decline in faith that government will address major societal needs exacerbated by those whose politics seek to accomplish just that… increased inequality that has the collateral effect of reducing hope for those at the bottom….”

Some people don’t vote simply because they’re lazy. Others are satisfied with the status quo, or willing to accept whoever wins. But that hardly describes very many people these days.

In my view, the major reason people don’t vote is that they don’t think it will make a difference. That does make a difference by leaving the choice to those who are motivated because they are angry. In this election, that faction consisted largely of white men.

Sad to say, there are sound reasons to think voting won’t make a difference.

In many cases, it really doesn’t. Most congressional districts are drawn to determine the outcome. If you’re a Republican in Corinne Brown’s district, or a Democrat in Ander Crenshaw’s, why bother to vote? Indeed, no Democrat saw any use at all in running against Crenshaw. The same manipulation has rigged the perpetual outcomes of most state legislative districts.

Regardless of specific elections, Congress and the legislatures in the long haul respond primarily to the big lobbies rather than to public sentiment on such issues as tax reform or corporate liability. I wrote not long ago on a scholarly study that documented how the United States is already, for all that matters, an oligarchy in the form of a republic. The public gets what it wants only when it coincides with what the Koch brothers and other plutocrats want.

One of the authors of that study, Princeton Professor Martin Gillens, is the author of a new book Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. In his introduction, he quotes the prescient warning of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, N.C.

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10 Responses for “Why Voters Don’t Give a Damn Anymore: Government Of the Few, By the Few, For the Fewest”

  1. Seminole Pride says:

    Many of us don’t need government because we are very capable to handle our own affairs. Government is for the poor and middle class.

    • John Smallberries says:

      Correct, the poor and middle class are the only ones that use highways and interstates, and they’re the only ones that enjoy the protection of the military.

  2. barbie says:

    “The same manipulation has rigged the perpetual outcomes of most state legislative districts.”–call it what it is, please–cheating. Election fixing. Pre-determining the outcome. The current gerrymandering is criminal. And those are things we actually know about, that we can point to and say “This is a serious problem”. Imagine what we don’t know?

    Too many people know the fix is in, and they don’t care. Abraham Lincoln did all that work in vain.

  3. Brad says:

    I agree with your statement that ” the major reason people don’t vote is that they don’t think it will make a difference.” There is no purpose for the individual.

    Identifying the problem is the easy part though. The hard part is fixing it. Like anything, we can’t change the world until we change ourselves. Here in Flagler County voting is broken, and we can do something about building a voting culture for ALL elections. The first step – change the leadership in the Flagler County Elections Office.

    Our Elections Supervisor will tell you that it’s not her job to promote voting in the community. She’ll tell you that her job is “ministerial”. She does this because she doesn’t want to be held accountable for voter turnout, but the truth is that it’s our Elections Office and we decide what the Supervisor is accountable for.

    We just went through an election cycle where Kimberle Weeks, Flagler County SOE, put more time and energy into waging battles with the City of Palm Coast and County Commissioners over problems she went out of her way to create. And because of these self-serving childish antics, we had upheaval in our Elections Office that had the FDLE descend on the office to investigate wrong-doing by Ms. Weeks. The news was littered with her ridiculous drama almost daily but no address at all from her to the numerous mistakes that occurred by her office during the election. So at the end of the day, there is no reason to trust the integrity of our elections in this County any longer in my opinion.

    The truth is that if our Elections Supervisor has that much time for these silly battles and money available in her budget for unnecessary legal and recording expenses, then there is time and money available for community outreach initiatives to promote voting locally. Nothing will get fixed in regards to voting in Flagler County so long as Kimberle Weeks remains in that Office locally. And the trust in our local elections will continue to decline.

  4. Sherry Epley says:

    For those who are deluded enough to “think” they don’t need government, try living even ONE DAY on your “private island”, while taking NO tax deductions, NO Social Security, NO Medicare, NO Disability, NO Workers’ Comp., etc. and without several of the following:

    1. The Protection of all Constitutional Right and Freedoms
    2. Clean water and air (the EPA)
    3. Interstate highways and local roads (DOT)
    4. Safe food and pharmaceuticals (FDA)
    5. Police and Fire Protection
    6. Regulated Electricity
    7. Safe Hospitals
    8. Protection from epidemics (CDC)
    9. Safe flying (air traffic control)
    10. Seeking Justice (the judicial system)
    11. Postal Services

    I could go on and on and on regarding how “big bad” government serves ALL of us each and every hour. . . even the arrogant wealthy among us cannot exist without it.

    Oh, and by the way. . . “GOVERNMENT” and “Social Services” are not exactly the same thing.

    There but for the grace of a “higher power” goes each one of those who thinks they will NEVER need to give or take love and assistance from their fellow human beings.

  5. tulip says:

    Elections are decided by the press and media, and they can make or break a candidate whether it’s deserved or not. This goes for local as well as state and national elections.

    People get caught up in the hype for or against someone and follow that crowd like sheep instead of learning and thinking things out for themselves. How many times have people said the voted for someone and then found out it was a mistake?

    All candidates want to put their best foot forward and insinuate they will do wonderful things if elected. Some genuinely want to do what’s best for the people, but are mowed down by the “bad guys” that have there own personal agendas. It all boils down to the voter being caught in the situation of “who is the better liar”, or they vote for the most prominent signs, or who has the least “dirt” flung at them. Some vote, with blind faith, for whomever a newspaper or other media “endorses”.

    All in all, the majority of us are led around the elections like sheep by those who have influence, or the ability to lie and insinuate effectively, make their own personal viewpoints the “correct one”. Look at the voting mistakes we’ve made right here in Flagler County because of the way the local ones were held in 2012 and 2014. The sorry part is, it will happen again in 2016 because voters “forget”.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Really, Seminole Pride? Tell us when you are ready and willing to build your own roads to get anywhere, sign your own social security checks, develop your own medical insurance program once you over age 65 without Medicare or support your children without survivor’s benefits if you or your partner in the military and happen to die. For that matter, let us know how you would get along without a military to defend your national interests. Maybe you could grow an expert militia in your own backyard, the way the stoek brings babies!

  7. My thoughts says:

    Government also provides water and sewer which helped us get rid of cholera and other water borne disease. After travelling the world I’ve concluded that we enjoy a standard of health and living in this country because government picked up the tab for big ticket items that weren’t otherwise going to be profitable to do.

  8. openminded says:

    Vote? How? Why? I am like many; I am up at 5. Care for elderly parents. Set them up. Greet nurse. I leave at 7. I work from 8-6. Home at 7. Saturday; 10-4. No nurse care. Sunday no Nurse care. Two children. 10-13. Soccer. Baseball. I clean my house. I do the yard work. I shop. I sleep. I shower. Where am I expected to fit in becoming aware of issues and knowing what means of getting that information is trustworthy? I really have no business casting a vote. I do not know enough. Should I vote just to vote? When I do have a moment to discuss this, I ask my “Voting” friends to let me know why they are so passionate about a certain candidate. Their responses honestly do indicate how they are just as uninformed as I am. Voting; why? So the winning candidate can now be a member of that; “Special Club”?; That you and I are NOT IN!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Would this site be complaining about a low voter turn out if liberal Ds had a good day on election day I think not.

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