There’s an old saying, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens.” The United States may be the world’s oldest continuous democracy, but experience does not equal enthusiasm.
In its most recent national election, the U.S. had the ninth-lowest among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The 2008 presidential elections boasted the highest since the 1968 elections ― and more than 4 in 10 Americans aged 18 or older still stayed home.
In addition to general apathy, the influence of money in politics, the Electoral College and gerrymandered congressional districts makes plenty of citizens feel as if their vote just doesn’t matter.
Less than two months ago many expects called Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a shoo-in for the White House in her race against Donald Trump, the Republican standard-bearer. Today many polls show the race neck and neck, thanks to events out of the candidates’ control.
Consider Barack Obama’s surge against John McCain after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. And control of the White House hinges on just a handful of swing states ― like Ohio, where Trump is still in a tight race with Clinton after several weeks of catastrophic missteps.
So, even if you’re a Democrat in bright red Texas, a Republican in deep blue Vermont, or a disenfranchised resident of Washington, D.C., there are plenty of reasons why you should still hit the polls.
It’s not just the president on the ballot. How much the next president can do depends on whether his or her party controls either the Senate or the House. The size of those parties’ majorities also makes a difference.
And you don’t have to live in a state that is competitive in the presidential election for your vote to make a difference at the congressional level. Local elections are also where citizens decide on the issues that can most directly affect you, including infrastructure funding, reproductive rights, public school control and discrimination laws.
Elected officials do not only respond to voters’ policy preferences, they also award a greater chunk of public resources to the people who bother to show up. A 2012 study conducted by economists from Dartmouth and Yale found that Southern state governments began transferring more funding to counties with larger Black populations after the passage of the Voting Rights Act gave African-Americans the franchise in 1965.
Know the facts and exercise your right to vote.