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Why Was Turnout So Low?

Why should voters show up to vote in an election mostly about nothing?

2014 voter turnout was reportedly the lowest for a midterm election in over seventy years:

The midterm elections on Tuesday generated a lot of buzz, but they did not draw a lot of voters.

According to estimates by the United States Election Project, turnout by eligible voters nationally was about 37 percent, the lowest level for a midterm since 1942.

As the article explains, most of the competitive statewide races were in smaller states this year, so the turnout was bound to be lower than it was four or eight years ago. Because some votes are still being tallied, “it’s possible that the turnout rate could inch up to 38.1 percent.” Even so, that’s still remarkably low. It can’t come as a surprise that more people didn’t show up to vote in an election that was widely perceived and portrayed as being mostly about nothing. Just as Republicans had almost nothing substantive to say about their agenda this year, their opponents mostly couldn’t or wouldn’t defend any of the things that the Democrats had done over the last five years. Democratic voters were remarkably unenthusiastic about the election this year, but then why would they be enthusiastic? It makes sense that they weren’t when you consider that their representatives were embarrassed to defend their own policies and the president was conspicuous by his absence from the campaign trail.

When a party fails to make an affirmative case for what it has done out of excessive caution or carelessness, the only thing that most voters will hear are the attacks against its agenda, and unless those are consistently challenged and countered the attacks will define how that agenda is perceived. Furthermore, when the party doesn’t have new successes to show its core supporters after many years in power, the supporters justifiably want to know why the party deserves their continued support. Maybe party leaders have a good answer for them, or maybe not, but if the supporters don’t hear some sort of answer early and often they are not likely to go out of their way to show up to vote.



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