The 2018 elections in the United States showed significant changes in the House of Representatives, anticipating a rise in power in the emergent ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic Party and an unknown, but possibly volatile reaction from the right. Indeed, the newly monikered ‘progressives’ have influenced party politics so much that there are now four zones of contention within the main:
-progressive vs. mainstream in the Democratic Party
-progressive vs. conservatives and ‘the right’
-Democrat vs. Republican
-Partisan reaction and infighting in the face of an ineffective and disorganized Presidency
Given this dramatically new landscape in American electoral politics raises many serious questions that will almost certainly change the nature of the national policy and debate in the years or even decades to come. One of the things that an analyst should be wanting to know is how voter demographics changed in 2018, and whether that change could indicate a similar trend in the presidential election of 2020 and beyond. In fact, U.S. voter turnout reached a 50 year high in the 2018 elections, a fact that is not only a cause for excitement and interest for those following American policy, but also one that may require us to archive voting trends as we have known them from the 1970’s until now so that we may speculate on what is to come. As we have only one election to draw our statistics from, analysts can all agree on one thing: U.S. representative democracy is now in uncharted waters.
Until now, there has been fairly good consensus over the causes of voter absenteeism. Factors seen as significant have commonly been:
-Lack of awareness of the electoral process and infrastructure
-Inability to relate to candidates
-Unfamiliarity with issues
-Little exposure to media
Important external factors or factors that create an illusion of higher voter turnout include:
-Inability to reach a polling place because of work
-Restrictive registration process
The research regarding the above factors generates a great deal of controversy however. Since the extant research is wide, voluminous, and accessible, we are encouraged to push on into probing the significance of voter synergy and motivation in this new era beginning with what surely is to be the watershed year of 2018. Instead of discussing forlornly why, in a great democracy, a large proportion of the people would rather stay home than bother to vote, we are now seeing activists from all walks of life encouraging their friends, neighbors, and families to take sides and above else, vote! It is a time of divisions and a time of great hope. For a new America, it does indeed seem to be “the worst of times and the best of times.” This hypothesis can only serve as a speculative indicator therefore and claims no value inaccurate prediction.
One of the largest factors that have been widely considered to ‘demotivate’ the American people, particularly lower-income Americans, to vote is a perceived notion that regarding voting they had already reached a rational conclusion that whether they voted or not, it would not make a difference or change their lives. Given that the lower income class should stand the most to gain in an election while the wealthy has the least to lose, the notion is an odd one and needs to be challenged by other explanations (i.e. suppression). It should also be challenged because apathy, like depression, shuts a person down from the source- it is not a result reached through rationale followed by a clear conclusion that a person would somehow benefit by ‘not voting.’ A truly thought out conclusion that voting makes no difference in policy, when clearly it does, or at least could, would be a stimulus to vote to rectify inequality and thereby increase votes. Voter apathy in a democracy is far more nefarious than that sort of intellectual class baiting that implies that people on the bottom don’t vote because they’re too lazy to care! This is the millennia-old rationalization of the powerful who do not regard the lowest classes as fully human or capable of reason. Clearly though, as together we have been discovering over the last few centuries, it is a systemic problem entangled in the very system that only the vote could change.
Indeed, that is exactly what is happening in the United States. In the 2018 elections, 101 new representatives were elected to the lower house of Congress; 67 of the Democrat, thus forming a Democratic majority overall. In itself, this is not a remarkable turn as switching party majorities are normal in the American legislature. What is remarkable are many of the freshman representatives who are getting attention in the media and the nation, and leapfrogging over senior representatives to introduce progressive legislation. In the public mind, almost overnight they have formed a formidable and (relative to the era) radical group of avengers insistent on bringing the voice of their constituents to the floor on the issues that matter to them. The newcomers are best recognized by their gender (female), age (young), and diversity (religion and sexual orientation), perhaps showing us in faces the demography of the new leaders that will make up America’s political tapestry. Barely weeks into office, Congresspeople like Cortez, Talib, and Porter are already household names, and Cortez alone remarkably shot up to ‘star’ status overnight, wielding far greater power than would normally be attributed to someone of her status.
The difference between the energized elections of 2018 and the voter apathy of the past 50 years is that ordinary people are voting not only in larger numbers than before, but also for candidates they believe in, who support the issues they want to see made law, and that those votes were given not lightly but with trust that their candidate would do his or her best to carry through on their promises and represent them in Washington. The term ‘The Trump Era,’ is both misleading and premature. It seems obvious in hindsight that Trump was elected into the office of the president amid a wave of populist sentiment, and it that same populist energy coupled with grassroots activism that resulted in the 2018 elections producing the most diverse Congress in the nation’s history. Speculation may be a weak tool, but even given that Trump could be reelected in 2020, the populist sentiments and synergy of the progressive movement, coupled with grassroots activism will continue to shape and transform American politics in the generation to come.