election anxiety countdown

8 Days: The Nonvoters’ Message

In any given election, between 35 and 60 percent of eligible voters don’t cast a ballot.


This morning, as I was wrangling my thoughts below on non-voters, FiveThirtyEight posted a detailed poll-based analysis of who non-voters are and why they don’t vote. It’s far better than the cobbled together memes and Wikipedia pages I based my original notes on.

Their research reveals that non-voting is more common among those under age 34, people who earn less than $40,000 per year, and those who have no more than a high school education. They are also slightly more likely to be non-white, which correlates with all the above — including youth in the increasingly diverse U.S.

In addition, more than half of non-voters are disinclined to call themselves Democrats or Republicans. I’m not sure what that reveals, though. American culture is defined — perhaps inaccurately — by its independence, freedom of thought, and an unwillingness to be defined by other people’s labels. If I wear the label, will you associate me with all the bad things said about prominent people who wear the label?

I know a few non-voters who are still unwilling to vote in 2020. I run into others in social media threads. And back when it was safe to be less than six feet away from a stranger, I would overhear their reasoning on the Metro, or in coffeeshops. Often, these are educated, middle-aged socialists, anarchists, libertarians or contrarians. I don’t get it.

I understand the impulse to opt-out of a system that isn’t working. But we only have one lifetime and can only be a part of the system we live in. Unless you’re actively part of a movement drafting a new constitution and working for the adoption of a new system (unlikely), opting out just allows everyone to ignore your valuable perspective and your (possibly) well-reasoned awareness of just how broken the system is.

Your representatives at the city, school board, water district, county, state, and federal level matter. I have written in this series about how it is a shame that many Americans equate voting with the quadrennial A vs. B presidential contest. Not that it doesn’t matter. But your complaints about local taxes and fees and school policies and spending have no standing if you aren’t engaged in the debates over who should be in charge. Local races are often decided by very few votes.

Even here in D.C., where our Presidential vote matters little, and we have no votes in Congress (despite paying more Federal taxes than 22 states). Though our city council (which effectively does double duty as a state legislature) is controlled by Democrats, it has a range of perspectives worth paying attention to. There are council members who are looking out for low-income workers. There are council members who are looking out for giant real estate developers. That may be an editorialized over-simplification of the centrist and leftist coalitions, but a vote added to one side or the other makes all the difference.

What message does non-voting send? It says that you don’t care, that you are fine with the existing state of affairs, that politicians don’t need to listen to you.

Thanks for reading!

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