Voter turnout in the November elections in St. Paul and Minneapolis was higher than usual: around 27% in St. Paul, 42% across the river.
But how impressive is that, really? Well over half of the Mill City electorate stayed home, and nearly 3/4ths of Saintly City voters. Seems like the best Democracy we can manage here in the Twin Cities is government of by and for a minority of the people.
Maybe that’s OK. Tacit approval could have been at work: Eligible voters evaluated the candidates, found acceptable those who seemed most likely to win and were content to leave the choice to others.
But, what if the reason voters stayed home is less benign? What if most citizens didn’t show up at the polls because they are turned off by politics and don’t think voting will help improve things?
Marketing entrepreneur Seth Godin thinks that’s the case and says it’s no accident. In a recent blog post, he notes that politicians spend billions of marketing dollars to create the belief that voting is something that’s better to avoid. “It turns out,” he writes, “that depressing voter turnout is a shortcut for the selfish political marketer. It’s easier to get your opponent’s supporters to become disgusted enough to stay home than it is to actually encourage people proactively to vote for you.”
“Elections,” Godin observes “are the only place where marketers try to get fewer people to buy what’s being sold.” Negative advertising teaches us that voting is not a responsibility we want to take. It makes voting feel like a hassle, “more like giving blood and less like going to a Super Bowl party.”
This is what we’re up against. Our challenge as believers in Democracy, in 2018, will be to interest people in voting, convince them that their vote can make a positive difference and persuade them to go to the polls on Election Day.
That will take good listening and winning words. What are they? We need to figure that out.
What do you think?
Bill Moore, President