Many Americans are in a foul mood. Just 42 percent approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, according to an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. Just 13 percent approve of Congress. And an overwhelming 66 percent say the country is heading in the wrong direction.
People are fed up with congressional dysfunction, the slow pace of economic recovery, and the decline in America’s ability to promote order in the world. In many key showdowns this fall, they dislike both major party candidates.
As usual for midterm elections, expectations are that most voters will tune out the candidates and stay home on Election Day, just nine weeks away. But that would be a bad idea. For several reasons, voters should be paying attention during the sprint to Nov. 4:
• You’ll pay dearly for not voting. Politics are brutal to those who don’t vote. At the federal level, the low participation of young voters has produced a government that, not coincidentally, borrows heavily and spends excessively on benefit programs for retirees.
• At the local level, look no further than Ferguson, Missouri, where the failure of a black majority to vote in large numbers has maintained a white-dominated city government. Whites make up just 29 percent of the population but account for five of six City Council members, six of seven school board members and nearly all of the 53 police officers. The city relies on court fees, largely from traffic stops, for 21 percent of its general fund revenues, with blacks shouldering the overwhelming burden.
This isn’t to suggest that white candidates can’t properly represent the interests of black voters, and vice versa. But when political power is so far removed from demographics, the potential for unrest grows substantially.
• Interest groups thrive on your indifference. The partisan interest groups flooding money into this fall’s elections are trying to keep independents, swing voters and occasional voters home. These voters dilute the groups’ strength and complicate their lives. They would like nothing better than to have elections determined by whichever side can muster more of its true believers.
A robust vote of thoughtful, independent-minded voters would thwart their efforts and prompt big-money donors to question whether they are getting desired results. It would also produce more thoughtful legislators, ones who do not think that compromise is a dirty word.
• Control of the Senate is up for grabs. Democrats have to defend seven Senate seats in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, while Republicans have just one seat up in a state carried by Obama. So there is a real chance that Republicans could net the six seats necessary to recapture a majority.
With that would come further opportunities to restrict Obama. A Republican Senate would make it more difficult to get his nominees confirmed and would provide more opportunities to investigate his actions and policies. Conversely, a relatively strong showing of Democrats would put Republicans on the defensive going into 2016.
None of these reasons for staying engaged means that voters shouldn’t be upset with the nature of politics today. Congress, in particular, has repeatedly failed at basic governance and ignored clear public sentiment. Even so, sitting out the election season only serves the entrenched interests and invites more gridlock.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS