At this point in the American election season, we’ve undoubtedly all seen it- blaring statistics lighting up the screen of the TV; patriotically hued posters in the periphery of our subway ride home; the peeling “I Voted Today” stickers on passing shirts in the wake of the preliminary rounds. The right to vote is quite possibly the foremost attribute to the American government system, something akin to the opening notes of the national anthem. And yet, time after time we are met with devastatingly low voter percentages following the presidential elections; according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, only 57.5% of Americans came out to vote in the 2012 election, down from 62.3% in 2008. While throughout its existence, the United States has only boasted on average a roughly 65% voter turnout, in today’s society it is mind-boggling to hear the seemingly indifferent attitudes of the American public. This is especially interesting when put into the perspective of how much more access to candidate information people possess in the current day. In a report published by Lyn Ragsdale for the Congressional Quarterly Press in 1998, statistics show that in 1876, 81.8% of eligible voters showed up for the national election. It is key to remember that at this time, white males were still the only demographic who had access to the vote, and even then there was not nearly the amount of candidate coverage that we have today. It wasn’t possible to educate the public on the specific wants and whims of the potential Presidents; after all, the electoral college was formed partly on the grounds that there were not enough literate people prior to the twentieth century to have an educated opinion for whom they were voting. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, it is especially common for millennials to feel that they were not entitled to cast a vote due to low political knowledge, with young voters pulling a 11 to 13 percent turnout average since 1994. This raises the question of whether the amount of coverage surrounding the Presidential candidates is actually driving voters away, specifically those below the age of 30. In our attempts to keep the public educated, are we actually just aiding to the general distaste of politicians?
Take this scenario, for instance: the two parents of a household are fighting over who would do a better job raising the dog that they may or may not be buying. One parent states that they had a dog for the past 30 years, and therefore would be better fit to be in charge of it. However, the other parent argues that while they did not have a dog, but rather a parakeet, they raised that parakeet to be one of the best parakeets in the world, and therefore they are just as, if not more, equipped to raise a dog. In addition, this parent also states that the other person did not raise the dog as well as they should have, making the other parent a liar. Meanwhile, you are in the corner with your siblings listening to the argument, watching as it strays from talking about the dog to suddenly throwing accusations about unrelated issues, to the point where you just want to know what is going to happen to the dog. However, you are too tired of listening to the two parents argue, and now just are hoping that they will resolve it themselves, so you and your siblings go outside to play.
As you can see from this circumstance, the volatile nature of 2016 election is a perfect example of how the media is able to strip the rose-tinted light from the candidate’s cheeks; from the fast-paced, information-slinging underbelly of the election process, we are suddenly able to have access to much more detail about the candidates’ personal lives than ever before. The most relevant event of this comes to us in the form of candidate Trump’s Today Show scandal, where comments that perhaps would never have surfaced to a public a century prior are suddenly dinnertime discussion. However, in retrospect, how common was it previous to the technological age to possess this kind of information about candidates? Would the American public have been knowledgeable about President Ulysses Grant’s fear of blood? Thomas Jefferson’s poor public-speaking skills and eccentric style? This is not to say that having the power to know more about who we are choosing for a president is a bad thing; on the contrary, having the caliber of this exposure broadens the opportunity for discussion across demographics. However, the question is, where do we draw the line? When does policy intersect with personal, and how do we discern which is more significant? This has become the key conflict of Americans as we brace ourselves for the coming election.
As we try to pull apart the candidates for their flaws, we are destroying the possibility of keeping the image of an ideal president alive, consequently instilling a sense of hopelessness in our voters and leading them to turn the other way when election day does finally come around. Ultimately, the media is fueling the fire of undecided voters, a percentage that currently stands at 25% of all registered voters according to CNBC, with 14% of voters claiming that they “do not like” either candidate. When asked about their reactions to the third Presidential debate, students in Guilford, CT, stated that they were “sickened” by the amount of verbal violence present in the debate. “It makes me sad,” one student states, “To think that in a couple months, one of them will have to become our President.” While many of these young people in our country today do not yet have the ability to vote, by next election season they will be accounting for a major portion of eligible voters. Yet, with the world of political media being what it is, a large portion of these young people may be too turned off by both candidates to exercise their legal right to the vote. While much of this indifference may be caused by laziness or lack of interest, the media has a major role to account for in these elections, a fact that must be recognized in order to raise the voting percentages. Ultimately, while you may think that neither parent is equipped to raise the dog, someone is going to have to do it.