Political talking heads have been declaring for months that a blue wave of Democrat support is about to sweep the political enemies of President Trump into power in the midterm elections. Much of that optimism has begun to wane, and there are some pundits suggesting there may be a slight red wave of Republican sentiment rising. But unless people bother to show up and vote, there may not be much more than a trickle either way.
Midterms are notorious for their lack of engagement in the political process vis-à-vis the presidential election cycle. However, even the use of a presidential election as a barometer for measuring peak political engagement evinces the truth that many of this nation’s citizens simply don’t care to engage at all. Are you aware that in the last 100 years, as a nation we haven’t even cracked 65 percent turnout? !
Midterm turnout hovers around 40 percent. Arizona is among the poorest-performing states when it comes to involvement in the civic process. Historically, the Tucson metropolitan area slightly exceeds our state average, but that’s not saying much. When you get to purely local elections, turnout is even lower. Our last election for mayor and council saw only 35 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
Consider the ridiculous reality that is our current state of affairs. By the numbers, it could be reasonably concluded that people think the president of the United States has more impact on their everyday lives than their local mayor and council do. Who makes sure your streets are paved, or, in the case of many people in large swaths of Pima County, who leaves them unpaved? Who has more impact on the efficient management of your local schools, the education secretary, a presidential appointee, or your local school board? Who ensures the trash gets picked up? It certainly isn’t the EPA secretary!
If we look at who even bothers to show up and vote, we see that most voters actually have been convinced that the national elections are of far more import to their daily lives than their local ones. This speaks to the control of the two major parties on our political process. They have made the presidential election the be-all and end-all . With rise of the bureaucratic state, the chief executive has amassed a tremendous amount of political power.
This top-down approach, emphasized by the two major parties, filters down to their respective voters. It is by design and results in voter apathy — some, because they see that no matter which party is in control, little changes; others, because they figure their vote doesn’t matter when viewed through the prism of millions cast.
Thus, increasingly, to manufacture voter involvement, the two parties engage in ever-increasing pejorative labeling of their opponent while issues get swept to the side. Rage has become the fuel for political “waves” for each party. The problem with this approach is that anger must continuously be ginned up, division continuously promoted, and our communities are none the better for it.
A return to civic responsibility as the basis for one’s vote, and the candidate putting forward the best ideas getting the most votes, would result in a tsunami of votes, rather than the predictable 40 percent or so that will mark yet another midterm.