October 19, 2016

2016 Voter Turnout May Be Better Than Anticipated

At this point in time, I'm not sure I have much interest in the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. None of the candidates are the sort of leaders I'd like to see running things, and I am not going to feel good about voting for any of them. I am, however, still interested in the process of the election. One example of this includes the undue influence on the democratic process being exerted by our cable news media. Another involves what will happen with regard to overall voter turnout. I have been quite curious about whether we will see record low voter turnout in the upcoming election as a function of how unpopular the two major party candidates are. From what I have heard of the early voting numbers, there is some reason to believe that this might not happen. At least so far, it seems like the numbers are decent.

Given the number of eligible voters who do not want to see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, I've been imagining three scenarios:
  1. We see record low voter turnout.
  2. Third party candidates do much better than expected but still fall far short of winning.
  3. We see little difference in voter turnout because people are motivated to vote against one candidate rather than for another.
It does bum me out that voter turnout in U.S. elections has been as low as it is for as long as it has. It always makes me think that we are taking our democracy for granted and not participating as members of an informed electorate, something which is required for a democracy to run well. And yet, if there was ever a year when I could easily understand why many people would not bother to show up to vote, this would be that year. If we do see record low voter turnout this year (which now seems less likely given the early voting numbers), I don't think it will be much of a mystery as to why.

I wish I had even a little bit of hope for the second scenario. There is no way any of the third-party candidates are going to be competitive this year, but it sure would be nice if this marked the beginning of a real alternative to our broken two-party system. Spending even a few minutes on social media has convinced me that tribalism has taken over the minds of many otherwise rational people and that Trump and Clinton have the largest tribes by far. The Clinton supporters are demonizing the Trump supporters for daring to hold different opinions; the Trump supporters are demonizing the Clinton supporters for the same imagined offense. The two-party system appears to be far too entrenched for us to break out of it.

If voter turnout ends up being decent, I suspect it will be because the negative campaigning Clinton and Trump have been doing has worked. That's the thing about negative campaigning - voters complain about it, but it often seems to be effective. Perhaps this is a year where many enraged voters will turn up just to vote against the other tribe's candidate. This seems to be Clinton's entire campaign strategy (I'm still not convinced the Trump campaign has anything that could be called a coherent strategy except to stay in the news). If the opposing candidate can be made into a threat to our very existence, perhaps voters will show up.

In the end, I think we can be fairly confident that Trump's base will show up to vote. They are committed to their candidate, and little he says or does seems to change that. As for Clinton, her challenge is one of convincing those who said they would vote for her when polled to actually show up and vote. From all the data we have available at this point in time, she will win if she is able to do that.