Welcome to Part 2 of my series on the importance of voting. Today, I want to discuss aspects of the “numbers game” that help make your vote so important. Many people say their vote doesn’t count. In reality, our vote counts for a lot more than we are often aware of. Particularly in the last few election cycles, we are starting to hear more reports of small margin victories and losses. We should bear in mind that while elections may not generally be won or lost by a single vote, the margin often amounts to small communities of people that we can have influence over by being engaged and vocal on political issues.
There are a few different points I’d like to consider. First, in huge presidential elections, we have now seen two major elections (Bush vs. Gore and Trump vs. Clinton) in the past 20 years that were won and lost by mere tens of thousands of votes in a handful of swing states. We’re talking about numbers that equate to the size of a few small college campuses or a handful of small suburban areas that decided our next president. In 2016, razor-thin margins unexpectedly flipped a number of key states in favor of Donald Trump: Michigan was decided by around 13,000 votes, Wisconsin by around 27,000 votes, Arizona by around 91,000 votes, etc. These are differences of mere percentage points. There was actually a case of a state level house race in a recent election being decided by a single, individual vote that had the potential to flip that state house from Republican to Democrat. Literally, one vote! But that’s a story for the next blog…
We generally get wrapped up in how OUR individual vote counts, but, perhaps, more importantly, we should be considering how our involvement and engagement in politics can have a substantial impact on how those around us choose to vote. The numbers game is not simply about the vote that you cast: it’s your vote AND the votes of those around you whom you can directly and indirectly influence. Think of all your family members, colleagues at work, classmates, friends, people at your place of worship, people in your community, those you network with via social media, and those involved in organizations you choose to participate in. If we each truly consider our sphere of influence, most of us would be surprised by how wide our nets can be cast. Do not undersell the influence you can have!
Another aspect of voting to consider is who is voting and who is not. Today, popular opinion is generally more progressive than it is conservative (roughly two-thirds of Americans support gun control, about 60% support gay marriage, nearly 80% support Dreamers becoming citizens or permanent legal residents, two-thirds oppose the new “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy, and approximately 60% believe the government has a responsibility to help every American obtain health insurance). However, Republicans control a majority of State Houses, Governorships, the Presidency, and both houses of the U.S. Congress. This is not a dig at Republicans; I simply want to point out that there is often a disconnect between what Americans believe and what those sent to represent them believe. One of the biggest reasons for this is that so many Americans do not show up to vote, especially among younger demographics of people.
Baby Boomers and Millennials each represent close to one-third of the electorate, yet Millennials had a mere 46% voter turnout in 2016. Contrast that to Baby Boomers at around 69% and the Silent Generation (ages 71+) at around 72%. Overall, less than 60% of the eligible voters in America actually voted in the 2016 election cycle. Half the battle here is just showing up. Younger voters (ages 18-30) are arguably the people who will be most affected long term by new legislation passed, yet they are the least represented in government because they do not show up to vote. At times, we essentially have people in their 70s and 80s deciding policies that will affect the lives of Americans 30 years from now, when those older folks voting will most likely not even be around to reap the consequences. We’re having other people decide what OUR future is going to look like
Also, Millennials have more access to information and convenience than any other generation before us. We can order food or household items at the touch of a button, we can apply to jobs from the comfort of our homes, we can even date using our smartphones. Yet, we don’t seem to care as much about the bigger policy choices we face: what kind of health care coverage will I qualify for? Will my kids be able to afford a college education? Will I be able to pay off the debt I accumulated from my education? Will gun violence victimize me or someone I know? The list goes on and on.
Young people with access to tools like social media have more power than we think. Ideas can spread at the speed of light. We possess a more immediate outlet for expressing ourselves and our beliefs than older generations; it’s simply a matter of embracing that and engaging in the issues that matter most to us. If younger people showed up, we would have the power to change the current political landscape. It’s a numbers game. I want to conclude this blog with one final thought: We must remember that while one person may not be able to change the world, a generation of people certainly can.