Why Do So Many Americans Stay Home During Elections?
There is a reason why so many people refuse to vote.
In the American political landscape, a significant phenomenon often goes unnoticed or, at best, superficially addressed: the large swath of citizens who consistently choose not to vote. This apathy towards voting, especially prevalent in the context of critical elections, has sparked numerous discussions and analyses.
However, most of these discussions miss a crucial point: the majority of nonvoters abstain not because they can't vote, but because they don't want to, stemming from a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the candidates and a belief that their vote won't bring about meaningful change.
Opinion contributor Glenn C. Altschuler wrote an op-ed for The Hill in which he rightly pointed out that a large swath of Americans don’t bother to vote. However, he completely misdiagnosed the reasons why.
Numerous factors explain why so many Americans do not vote. Unlike in most countries, elections in the U.S. are held on Tuesday (not Sunday or a federal holiday), when tens of millions of eligible voters are at work. Dozens of states require approved documentation that voters are who they say they are, a challenge that falls disproportionately on urban areas, poor people, people of color, college students, people without drivers’ licenses and Indigenous people who live on reservations and do not have a residential address.
Many states limit the number of polling places, drop boxes and early voting days; restrict eligibility to cast ballots by mail; and make it difficult for people who have moved within the state during an election year to register in their new district.
These are the typical Democrat talking points related to voting — it’s not that people don’t want to vote, it’s that they can’t vote. Of course, Republicans are to blame for this, right? Folks on the left love to point to these laws as the primary impediment to voting
But the data shows that the opposite is actually true.
As I pointed out in an article on RedState, an NPR poll conducted shortly after the 2020 elections found that the reasons nonvoters stay away from the polls have nothing to do with Altschuler’s points.
For starters, the report noted that three-fourths of nonvoters believe “it’s at least somewhat easy to vote.”
However, 23 percent indicated they don’t vote because they are not “interested in politics.” About 20 percent said they did not like any of the candidates, while 16 percent felt that voting “wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Even further, the poll showed that two-thirds believe “voting has little to do with the way that real decisions are made in this country.”
A YouGov poll yielded similar results. It was conducted just after the 2022 midterm elections.
It showed that 52 percent of nonvoters did not like any of the candidates. Forty-eight percent felt their votes didn’t matter, and the same percentage also said they were “too busy” to vote.
Also noteworthy is that 39 percent indicated that they did not want to have to vote in person. However, if one is motivated to vote, they typically won’t mind showing up to the polls to participate, which further illustrates the true crux of the matter: Nonvoters don’t vote because they don’t want to vote, not because they can’t vote.
This is where the liberty movement, particularly at a local level, has a golden opportunity. Libertarians, with our focus on minimal government intervention, individual liberty, and skepticism of the establishment, can appeal to this disenchanted demographic. By focusing on nonvoters as well as converting those who do vote, the liberty movement can tap into a vast, mostly untapped reservoir of potential support.
The strategy should be twofold. First, it involves understanding and addressing the reasons behind the disillusionment of nonvoters. Many of these individuals feel alienated by the 'establishment uniparty'—the perception that major political parties are fundamentally similar, offering no real choice or change.
This is where libertarian candidates can differentiate themselves by presenting alternatives that break away from the status quo, championing issues such as government transparency, individual freedoms, and a more direct form of democracy. The liberty movement has a chance to further brand itself as the anti-Uniparty.
Second, there needs to be a concerted effort to educate and engage these potential voters. This involves not only promoting libertarian ideals but also demonstrating how these principles can translate into actionable, positive change at a local level. Local politics, often overlooked, is where citizens can see the most immediate impact of their vote.
By focusing on local elections, the liberty movement can showcase how libertarian policies can directly benefit communities, addressing issues like police misconduct, civil asset forfeiture, eminent domain abuses, attacks on gun rights, and other areas in which the state oversteps its boundaries.
Moreover, the liberty movement must capitalize on the general discontent with the current state of politics. By offering a principled stance that prioritizes truth and practical solutions over political narratives, libertarian candidates can present themselves as a refreshing alternative to the disillusioned voter.
They can reach those who have realized that the system is rigged in favor of two parties that have no interest in protecting liberty and making the government less intrusive in our lives.
Right now, there is a distinct lack of faith in the system because more Americans are finally realizing that neither party is interested in solving problems. The liberty movement, with its unique positioning and principles, is in an ideal place to reach out to this segment of the population.
By focusing on nonvoters, especially at the local level, and presenting a clear, actionable, and principled alternative, libertarians can not only increase voter turnout but also challenge the prevailing political narratives and bring about real change. It's not just about giving people the right to vote; it's about giving them a reason to.
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