Did you vote yesterday? I did, even though I knew that my vote would not have an immediate impact on anything, since I live in California and there were no close races on the ballot. I still believe, though, that voting is fundamental, even and especially when you are angry with the only available options. Here’s why.
The majority of commentators on the 2014 U.S. midterm elections have lamented that the electoral system in the U.S. is broken and dysfunctional (and here) after yet another record-low voter turnout. I strongly disagree. In fact, I would argue, the electoral system is working perfectly well.
“People feel they’re victims of the process, that politics isn’t something to participate in, it’s something that is done to them. The feeling is getting worse, it’s getting much deeper, it’s covering larger and larger groups within the electorate….Their frustration is much worse than anything I’ve heard before,” said a Democratic Party pollster… in 1990! Since then, there have been 48 elections cycles, all of them with more or less low turnouts. If there was any political will to get the population more involved with democracy, don’t you think the results would have been felt by now? But that’s exactly my point: the way the system is set up benefits those in power, therefore they have no incentive to change it.
Remember that the goal of any political system is to maintain power with the elite group in charge of that system. The obvious correlation is that power should not be allowed to devolve to others outside of the elite group. As I’ve discussed before, in 21st century America, the locus of power is with those who control the most capital, whether large corporations, hedge funds or investment bankers.
Ever since the Nixon administration, the U.S. has moved towards a form of capitalocracy. The events of the 60s deeply worried the entrenched elites. For the first time in the history of the U.S. they could see glimpses of what their society would be like if power was allowed to actually trickle down to the people. And they didn’t like what they saw. At all.
So in the last 40 years, there has been a push to favor capital over people in order to not only overturn the concessions given to us in the 60s, but also, and most importantly, to make sure that nothing like the 60s ever happens again. Outsourcing of jobs, the relaxation of numerous banking and finance regulations, the strangling of unions, the demise of our education system, and other similar measures have created very favorable conditions for high returns on capital investments. Not surprisingly, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated in his Capital in the 21st Century, the rates of return on capital have exploded, while real wages (wages adjusted for inflation) have stagnated in the last 30 years. In other words, while the rich are getting richer, the vast majority of us just toil along.
What does this have to do with these last elections though? While the turnout was abysmal, these midterm elections represented an all-time record in spending! At first glance this seems absurd: both parties (and private donors) spent nearly $4 BILLION on these elections and yet they still couldn’t get most of the population to come out to vote? But that was never their intention! In a society ruled by capital, people are expendable.
The Supreme Court’s “money is speech” decisions paved the way for today’s extremist political landscape. Politicians no longer need to convince undecided people to vote for them based on a rational analysis of their political programs. Instead, whoever can muster the most capital can just sling mud on his/her opponents and drown the airwaves with favorable ads. This achieves a double effect: it turns away moderates from the political arena altogether, and it fires up their base.
In other words, if you’re not a die-hard Republican or Democrat, if you are generally disgusted with all politicians and don’t believe that any change—or hope—can come out of Washington, candidates don’t care about you. They won’t waste their money attempting to coax you to vote for them. And once they are in office, they will not bother addressing any of the issues you stand for. You are completely useless to them, and they will treat you as such.
The only way to revert this trend and give yourself a voice is trough a protest vote, especially if you disagree with both candidates from the main parties. Cast a blank ballot. Or vote for some candidate on the fringes. This sends the strong message that you are in the mix, that you are politically active, that you WILL vote in the next election, so that candidates cannot simply disregard you. It also sends the message that you will not fall for fear-mongering (every Republican campaign) or naive dreams (Obama 2008).
60% of the voting population turning in a blank ballot sends the strong message that the system is indeed broken, that the population cares about the future of its country and will not allow the elites and their interests groups to decide that future for them. But 60% of the population not showing up at polling stations and not casting a vote is not a problem at all for politicians. It simply tells them that the system they designed is working as planned, by keeping those they can’t reach at bay, while allowing their core constituencies to carry the day for them. Is this democracy? No. But the real question is: next time around, will you make your voice heard or will you stay on your couch?