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Giving Up on Politics: If You Wreck It, They Won't Come

Turnout in the 25 states that have held statewide primaries so far has declined from 18.3% in 2010 to 14.8% this year.
Image: Image: US-VOTE-2012-ELECTION
Residents of Breezy Point Queens leave donations at a church for victims of Hurricane Sandy as they head to their polling place to vote in the 2012 presidential election in New York on November 6, 2012. The neighborhood was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and a fire that destroyed and damaged more than 100 homes. AFP PHOTO/Mehdi Taamallah MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty ImagesMEHDI TAAMALLAH / AFP - Getty Images

If you wreck it, they won’t come

We’ve been warning about this for months, and we now have new evidence: More Americans are giving up on the political process. That’s the conclusion from a new report by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, which finds that turnout in the 25 states that have held statewide primaries so far (for the Senate and/or governor) has declined from 18.3% in 2010 to 14.8% this year. What’s more, the report says that turnout in 15 of these 25 states has reached historic lows, and only three of 25 (Nebraska, North Carolina, and West Virginia) had higher turnout in 2014 than four years ago. So take President Obama’s low job-approval ratings, add them with Congress’ lower numbers plus a sense that the political process is broken, and you get low turnout -- record lows in some cases. Now we don’t know what turnout will be for the general election, but if these numbers are any guide, then you can probably bet some money that the number of Americans voting is going to be down in November. And that could produce some striking consequences. Does it prevent a wave election from happening (because the middle doesn’t show up)? Does it help facilitate one? Or does it result in an outcome that political observers didn’t see coming (like what happened in 1998)? Maybe the biggest consequence of all is a general public that doesn’t feel vested in the political process. And that is a problem.

States with the highest and lowest turnout so far

Here are some other numbers from the report by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate:

  • The states with the highest turnout in 2014 (for both parties): Montana (26.3% of eligible voters), Kentucky (22.8%), Nebraska (21.8%), Mississippi (21.1%), Oregon (19.8%), and California (18.1%).
  • The states with the lowest turnout: Iowa (9.7%), Nevada (9.9%), Maine (10.1%), Ohio (11.2%), Texas (11.4%), South Carolina (12.1%), and Pennsylvania (12.5%).

Schumer backs top-two primary system

Given these low turnout numbers, the timing of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) New York Times op-ed calling for the nation to adopt a California, top-two primary system is interesting. “We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.” Why does someone like Schumer endorse this kind of system? Well, if you want to pass immigration reform – and maybe cut other deals as a future Senate majority leader -- you probably want winners who have a stake in winning the middle. Then again, such a proposal isn’t going to go well with some members of the base.

A Senate runoff came down to Georgia…

Speaking of this year’s primaries, the summer primary season picks back up with today’s Senate GOP runoff in Georgia between Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) and businessman David Perdue, who finished first and second (respectively) in the original May 20 primary. Perdue’s closing TV ad hits Kingston on “amnesty” -- or rather the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s support for comprehensive immigration reform. (The Chamber endorsed Kingston over Perdue.) And guess what: The Chamber has fired back at Perdue. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stands up for American enterprise. We fight for jobs. So why is David Perdue attacking us? Well, he sought our endorsement several times but didn’t get it. Now, losing and desperate, David is crying like a little baby. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce proudly stands with conservative champion Jack Kingston. This Tuesday, get out and vote.” Ouch. Polls close at 7:00 pm ET.

The latest out of Eastern Ukraine

“After days of resistance, pro-Russian rebels on Monday yielded some ground in the crisis surrounding downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 — handing over passengers’ bodies, relinquishing the plane’s black boxes and pledging broader access for investigators to the crash site,” the Washington Post writes. “The developments offered some hope that an international investigation might clarify how the civilian jet carrying 298 passengers and crew members was shot down Thursday over territory held by the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Experts warned, however, that the site has been compromised.”

Boehner blames border impasse on White House’s inability to convince Democrats to change 2008 law

Regarding the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Texas Gov. Rick Perry yesterday announced sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, and the New York Times writes about the move with a 2016 focus. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner is attributing Congress’ inaction on the border (so far) to the White House’s inability to get Democrats to support changing the 2008 law regarding the processing of Central American minors. “After first supporting common-sense changes to the 2008 law that is making it more difficult to resolve this crisis, the White House backpedalled and failed to include those changes in its formal request to Congress,” Boehner says. And that inability to convince Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats does give Boehner an out here. Then again, as we’ve said before, faced with a humanitarian crisis at the border, it’s striking that Washington -- the White House, Democrats, and Republicans -- can’t come together to do the bare minimum.

Grimes’ latest TV ad

In Kentucky’s Senate’s contest, Alison Grimes (D) is up with a new TV ad hitting Mitch McConnell on the economy and coal. A voter, sitting next to Grimes in the ad, states: “Mr. McConnell, in the last two years, we’ve lost almost half of our coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?” But ask yourself this: A month and a half since the EPA’s announcement, did you expect that Grimes would still be talking about coal? Or should she be talking about something else?

Talking about the young folks…

And the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), a youth think tank based at Tufts University, is up with a new interactive map looking at young voters in every congressional district nationwide. The site offers searchable data like the CDs with the highest populations of young people (spoiler: MA-7), with the most diverse populations, and with the highest number of higher education institutions.

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