#111 - Why Americans do not vote (Watt Thoughts) 9/29/2004
Have you wondered why Americans have such a low voting participation rate compared to the rest of the world? We hope for fifty percent rates and watch so many other countries show upwards of ninety percent and better. We have about fifty percent register to vote and near 100% in so many other countries.
The first reason that we hear all the time is that voting is something new to those countries and everyone wants chance to vote. That is true, but why are certain populations in the United States of America doing the same. For a number of areas of the USA Blacks and other minorities just gained or re-gained the right to freely vote in the last 40-50 years and we see just as dismal participation rates among them. We see groups rise up indignantly on some issue but maybe one time increase participation.
As countries gain the right to vote they see obvious choices and vote accordingly. In many of the former Soviet block countries there is a clear choice between communism and capitalism and other beliefs on the ballot. As we watch Afghanistan and Iraq prepare to vote this fall there will be clear cut choices between fundamental Islam, a more liberal Islam and USA capitalism. Also which tribal group or ethnic group will run the nation? It makes a difference to the individual voter so they will get out and vote.
In the USA the people have come to realize it is not one person who runs the USA government, but about 545 people. Who are they? They include not just the President, he or she can only do things with consent of the other 544. Those 544 people in some cases have more power than the president. Those 545 include our US Senators and Representatives, but also the Supreme Court.
You say the president has all the power? Then why did Clinton let Gore lose the election in 2000? He had no say in it, but nine justices on the Supreme Court had the final say on how the vote was counted. You can look at Congress and the President and they can pass laws but the Supreme Court can stop them from being law. Does President have large power? Think Nixon. There was a belief that he was gaining to mach power and where did he face removal but from congress.
The people look at the election and realize that unless there is a radical change in congress with the president, that things will basically stay the same. Whether we elect Bush or Kerry or Nader, Congress is not going to let the president just bring the troops straight home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
As we look at other nations of the world there tends to be one person in charge and who controls as long as his/her party is in control. So electing a Putin or Blair means the government is overall controlled and going in one direction.
Tip O’Neil (I think it was him and not a different speaker of House) had it right about the USA, all politics is local. People vote for candidates on local issues because on the local level one person has the most impact. Your city councilman, county commissioner or whatever their title has more of a impact and ability to change things to affect you immediately that the present or congressperson. They decide where things are built or not built, what the tax rate is, how much money your schools have, how often I s trash picked up, etc. As I heard one state representative comment, the job of city councilman may be the hardest because people expect you to solve problems immediately any hour of the day or night whether it be dog barking next door, trash pickup, water disconnected, etc. When you think of state legislatures, Congress or the President, you figure they have bigger things and do not concern them with these.
All in all we expect that the USA government is a large ship and even if Nader or the Libertarian was elected it would be just as hard to change the government radically as turning a ship around, it takes time. However what people fail to consider that although it may take years to change the government’s direction we can set it turning in the direction we want it to go by our votes.
Also although it might not be able to change direction as quickly in other nations, it can change and the stability this has brought is probably part of our success as a nation and envy of some many others, and belief in others that a simple act like 9/11 could destroy our government and way of life when it did not.
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