To say people are fed up with Washington would be an understatement. Congressional approval ratings have been declining steadily since 2009, with the most recent Gallup poll reporting 14 percent approval in September, the lowest rating before a midterm Gallup has seen since 1974.
Americans have had to deal with years of gridlock and ineptitude, marked by the government shutdown in 2013 and historically high usage of filibusters. Before November, signs pointed to an American public hungry for change. Unfortunately, this spirit was not reflected on Election Day. Voters dropped the ball on this one, and we need to take responsibility for our representation as a whole moving forward.
Voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections nationwide was a miserable 36.3 percent, the lowest turnout in 72 years, according to the New York Times. In that, only seven states topped 50 percent (Colorado included), and no state topped 60 percent. The top three states in terms of population — California, Texas, and New York — saw less than a third of their populations participate. Regardless of the political climate in our country, this lack of participation by the voting public is disturbing and unacceptable and has essentially forfeited the chance for progress or noticeable action from Washington until 2016.
The lack of voter participation was not any more than in previous elections, as turnout for midterm tends to fluctuate between 35 and 40 percent, but it is troubling in the context of our most recent elections because of the precedent it sets. Over the past two years, the Republican Party did all in its power to slow progress down in Washington and drag the majority down when it couldn’t have its way. While it would be unfair to ignore that the Democratic Party has had a hand in the increased polarization and gridlock in politics, the Republican Party as the minority had clear motivation and expressed intent to contribute heavily to making Congress one of the least efficient and approved in history, and we as voters rewarded them for it.
The past several years of gridlock were a deliberate political ploy that never should have worked. The conservative strategy, attributed to Senator Mitch McConnell, played on the most negative assumptions about the public, and voters proved him right. McConnell assumed that voters would blame Obama for the gridlock: the government shutdown, the historic use of filibusters. McConnell assumed that voters would blame the majority party, the Democrats, despite his party being the ones mostly responsible. This plan was a despicable use of power, and it worked.
By rewarding the Republican Party for collectively dragging their feet until they got what they wanted, we have shown both parties that this strategy works, and opened ourselves up for more of this ridiculous behavior in the future. We as voters have demonstrated that we can be manipulated and tricked by even the most base of strategies., and we cannot let this image persist in future elections. People need to get involved.
Apathy among voters is an issue that the United States has long faced. While voting rates have not shown a long-term trend of decrease, our participation fluctuates at a level 10 to 20 percent lower than other established democracies like Germany, Sweden and Austria. The strength of a democracy relies on the participation of its populace, and we need to be more active. The behavior of our politicians and the numbers in the polls (over 50 percent of voters hold an unfavorable view of both parties) show that Washington doesn’t represent the voice of the people anymore. Whether you voted or not, get involved and take responsibility for your representation.
Collegian Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.