You would think that voters in Ohio and elsewhere might actually be getting excited about voting with just 26 days until Election Day. But sadly, you would be wrong, if results from a Gallup poll of 1,252 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are reliable. And there’s no reason to conclude they’re not.
Turnout in the midterm elections this fall could be lower than in the past two midterm elections, based on current voter engagement, Gallup reported Wednesday. On each of three indicators of voter engagement in midterm elections—how much thought Americans have given to them, their expressed motivation to vote, and their enthusiasm about voting compared with past elections—2014 looks more like lower-turnout years 1998 and 2002 than higher-turnout years 2006 and 2010.
The long-standing polling firm theorizes that one likely reason voter turnout was higher in 2006 and 2010 was that Americans were deeply dissatisfied with the state of the nation, as well as the jobs the president and Congress were doing. “In those elections, the same party controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, so voters looking to change the government had a clear and obvious way to do so—voting against members of Congress from the majority party.” Democrats won control of both houses of Congress in 2006 and Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
This year is different, with Americans expressing dissatisfaction with the state of the nation and generally unhappy with the job President Obama is doing and even more so with the job Congress is doing. Earlier Gallup research suggested that low approval of Congress is associated with higher voter turnout in midterms. However, with a “Democratic president and divided party control of Congress, there is no clear remedy to inspire voters to change things this year, and that may be keeping Americans’ motivation to vote and enthusiasm about voting in check,”
Meanwhile, in separate news, a report from the General Accounting Office out Thursday makes a case that voter ID laws cut turnout among youth, blacks. “States that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not, with disproportionate falloffs among black and younger voters,” the nonpartisan GAO report shows. As of June, 33 states have enacted laws obligating voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Republicans who have pushed the legislation say the requirement will reduce fraud, but Democrats insist the laws are a GOP effort to reduce Democratic turnout on Election Day, the AP reports.
Here in Ohio, Democrats have been on the defensive, fearing that sleepy midterm voters will remain sleepy even though it has more than 800,000 more registered voters than do Republicans. On Tuesday in Columbus, the Democrat’s “Election Protection Team” of David Pepper running for attorney general and Nina Turner running for secretary of state, promised that if elected they would expand access to the ballot, protect voters’ rights and push back early on any efforts by the GOP-controlled legislature to pass legislation that is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court in a recent 5-4 ruling backed Ohio election officials’ efforts to eliminate so-called Golden Week, when voters could both register to vote and then vote on the same day starting 35 days before Election Day. In light of the court’s ruling, the first day of early voting in Ohio started a week later, on Tuesday.
“Although the current political environment in many respects is more similar to the anger and frustration that led to higher voter turnout in 2006 and 2010 than to the generally content electorates that voted at lower rates in 1998 and 2002, Gallup’s key indicators point to voter turnout that more closely approaches the latter elections than the former,” Gallup wrote. It said that the key to explaining this voter apathy may be found in the current divided party control of Congress. Voters, they say, having no clear way to act on their frustrations with the state of the nation and the government. “With little hope of 2014 being a ‘change’ election—even if Republicans win the Senate, the GOP-controlled Congress will have to contend with a Democratic president. Sadly, despite all the TV spots reminding voters to register and to vote, more Americans appear to be willing to sit out this fall’s elections than was the case in the previous two midterm election years.
Is it too much an impossible dream to dream that Democrats and Independent voters will actually vote at the polls or by absentee ballot this year? With all media repeatedly repeating that voting will be down be the self-fulling prophecy for low turnout this year? With over three weeks remaining, the Ohio miracle—no, not the false story promoted by Gov. John Kasich that he’s turned around the state—would be that people wake up and exercise the one civic duty at the heart of our democracy reserved by the constitutional expressly for them. Vote.