When I'm drivin' in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He's tellin' me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
–The Rolling Stones
According to the Pew Research Center only 33 percent of registered voters nationwide were very satisfied with the choices of presidential candidates. “Compared with the last two presidential elections,” the study noted, “satisfaction with candidate choices is down by more than 20 percentage points among California likely voters.” While a third of registered voters say they are very or fairly satisfied with their choices, 63 percent say they are not too or not at all satisfied. This marks the first time in the last six presidential contests that positive views of the choice of candidates have shown a significant decline over the course of the campaign. And the ugliness of the second presidential debate held last week probably did little to satisfy those unhappy voters on either side of the aisle.
While voters may be increasingly dissatisfied with their options at the national level, at the state level, particularly here in the state of California, that dissatisfaction is joined by fatigue as voters face making decisions on a record seventeen measures on the November ballot. One reporter suggested these measures are simply part of the “growing populist sentiment and frustration with traditional government.” I disagree. Instituted by public vote over one hundred years ago, the initiative process was touted by reformers as a way for voters to curb the influence of big business on politics and minimize widespread government corruption. With so many initiatives on the ballot, it is obvious that the process may have begun as a reform to increase citizen engagement and election participation, but it has devolved into a vehicle for industries, corporations, and wealthy individuals to bypass the legislative process and create their own legislation.
The problem is that the average voter – and not so average voter – is not clear on what they are voting on. According to “Reforming California’s Initiative Process, a Public Policy Institute of California 2013 Report” while 7 in 10 California adults say the initiative process is a good thing, only a small minority say they are very satisfied with the way the process is working. Most are unsatisfied as the laws we are asked to weigh-in on are about issues that we have very little expertise in like Medi-Cal Hospital Funding, Death Penalty Procedures, Language Acquisition Programs, even Adult Film Industry Health Regulations.
And there is no relief at the local level. There is a record number of local tax and bond measures this election. California will see 650 local measures and 427 revenue measures on the various local ballots – San Bernardino, for instance will see three measures regulating the cannabis industry within city limits while Riverside has two revenue measures this election – one to raise the sales tax and the other to upgrade and modernize school facilities.
Many experts believe this dissatisfaction with the current state of politics and government will influence voter turnout causing voters to express their frustration by avoiding the ballot box all together. It’s not so much that these voters are apathetic – they are overwhelmed, fatigued, and uninspired – and until possibly the next election cycle…extremely dissatisfied with their options.