This November we will have what are normally referred to as midterm elections, given that they take place in the middle of a sitting president’s tenure. In general they elicit less excitement than when we elect our head of state, which is illustrated by the fact the turnout for midterms is about 40% of eligible voters versus a little under 60% in presidential elections.
Not that midterms are less important, mind you, given that control of the House of Representatives is always at stake, as well as control of the Senate, potentially, and of many statehouses. (See http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/voter-turnout/.) It is just the reality of voter turnout in our nation.
The fact is that the United States has an abysmal record of voter participation. This low voter turnout is an indicator that Americans don’t think much of their government or their elected representatives. Popular late night show host Jay Leno had a segment on his show called “Jaywalking” where he asked fairly simple questions of average Americans on the street. It never failed to shock when the answers from the average John or Jane Doe revealed the level of ignorance with respect to the basics of how government works or who their representatives are. This is tragic and cannot augur well in the long run for America since a citizenship cannot be divorced from its government and leadership.
This brings me again to advocate for an organization that is the nation's largest voter education project, serving not just the United States but also the District of Columbia, the territories and even American schools abroad – the National Student/Parent Mock Election (NSPME).
Here are a few added tidbits of the sad reality that NSPME has collected:
- Recent National Association of Educational Progress tests have found only half the primary grade students tested could name George Washington as our first president.
- An American Bar Association Poll found that Americans are not sure what the separation of powers means; only 56% could identify the three branches of government and one in five thought the answer was Democrat, Republican and Independent.
- Eight of ten 15 to 26-year-olds know that the animated Simpson’s family lives in Springfield, but fewer than half know the political party of their state’s governor, and only 40% can say which party controls Congress, a Rutgers study found.
- While two-thirds of young people now say they have already voted or are likely to vote, those most likely NOT to vote include 51% of Latinos, 46% of youth with high school or lower education level, 44% of non-college-educated women, 43% of independents and 40% of women in the South.
- Recommendations for effective voter mobilization published by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) include starting with the youth. "Initial mobilization produces repeat voters. If people have been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return."
I sit on the Board of the not-for-profit, non-partisan NSPME, and I have been an active supporter for some 30 years because of my personal belief that for our nation to be strong our leaders must be chosen by an educated electorate. Since NSPME was founded in 1980 over 50 million students, and often their parents too, have participated our mock elections. In doing so they start to understand the importance of voting, the need to press candidates on positions and issues, and the mechanics of the process. This makes the NSPME a vital player in encouraging voter participation.
Congress seems to also believe in the importance of the NSPME and actually authorized the organization under two statutes, "No Child Left Behind" and the "Help America Vote Act." But authorization is different from appropriation, and funding for the NSPME must come from other sources.
To that effect the organization created a Washington Bureau last month and held an event in the National Press Club seeking support from other government and business sources in order to expand the mission.
The 2014 midterm elections are setting themselves up to be quite important in that context since there is a distinct possibility that the Senate may also become controlled by a Republican majority, hence establishing a strongly divided government in Washington. But in line with lower turnout, it is usually midterms when support for voter education also falls.
October 30, 2014, will be Mock Election Day
. Volunteers in all 50 states and the territories will organize the event statewide. We urge all to bridge the gap and get involved.
SOURCE: Civic Education, Elections and Business Intelligence
Recent articles by Dr. Ramon Barquin