When Ten Percent Equals a Majority

Today, voter apathy is at an all time high. During the 2014 election, in almost every state in the union, voter turnout trended lower than usual and in some cases was the lowest participation rate in over 70 years. While our lives do go on and it may seem like our absence at the polls will not have a significant effect in our daily lives, after all candidates still get elected and measure still get decided, the reality is that we’re setting ourselves up for the political equivalent of a fat tail distribution.

Let’s take California as an example. California has over 38 million residents. Of those, over 24 million are eligible to vote; and nearly 18 million of them have registered to vote. However, in the 2014 mid-term elections, just over 7.5 million of them cast a vote. This means that only 41% of registered voters chose candidates and decided issues for the Golden State. Worse yet, that computes to only 30% of California’s eligible voters who participated in the election. Bleakest of all is to think that only 19% of California’s residents spoke for the other 81% in the 2014 mid-term elections. To visualize that a little better, imagine a democratic group consisting of only 10 people, where the group’s decisions are based on what two members decide while the other 8 aren’t even in the room.

It’s no wonder that congress has dismal approval ratings and polls repeatedly show a general sentiment that citizens do not feel like their representatives speak for or represent them. At least in California’s case, the numbers makes it impossible. If less than 20% of the population voted for a representative, then simple math tells us that he/she represents a minority of the population without even taking into account party affiliation. To do so is a very interesting exercise.

Of the 7.5 million votes cast is California, only 4.38 million were cast in favor of Jerry Brown for Governor. 2.92 million Californians voted for his opponent and can rightly say that Jerry is not their desired representative. But the striking fact is that just over 10% of California’s population can actually say, “I support Jerry Brown,” and have a voting pin to prove it. Now, if we return to the visualization of our group of 10.   Imagine that the 8 members not present for the vote, enter the room and one person in the group stands up and says, “I’ve elected our next leader.” One might imagine that in such a scenario the larger group may object and question the validity of the “election.” But whether or not you would imagine a democracy working in this manner is becoming less important. Unfortunately, the reality is that voter abstention in the State of California is creating election results that are analogous to our example.  Given enough time, this trend will result in a long line of representatives elected by a minority of the states’ residents, passing laws that few people support. If those laws are only targeted at maintaining the support of the minority of voters that are active on a regular basis, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario when the majority of the people who live in California end up being bull dozed by those laws.

Though the reasons for voter apathy are varied and there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to improve voter turnout, one thing is clear. As a democratic society, it is in our best interest to reduce any barriers to voter participation that we can.

  1. Why do I only get to choose to between Jeb and Hillary? There are 127 Republican candidates and a couple Dem candidates! Neither one of those are in my top two!

    What about Trump?

    “Despite Offensive Comments, Donald Trump Polls Strong In New Hampshire” –

    And look at this for Bernie Sanders! Hillary goes to New Hampshire and stands behind a rope and this guy pulls in 2.500 people in Iowa!

    “Sanders draws more than 2,500 to Iowa stop — tops for this presidential cycle so far” –

    1. You Republicans think everything revolves around you! Where are my candidates? Where’s my big fence around the USA? Where’s my corporate bailout? Where’s my oil pipe? Hillary would wipe the floor with Donald Trump’s toupee (or dead rat) whatever is sitting on top of his head!

      1. No surprise your name is Kranky! My point is, I’m tired of political pundits calling it done before it’s even started!

        I heard someone call trump a carnival barker. Couldn’t agree more! He’s not serious, has no good ideas and should go home!

        As for Hillary, here’s my prediction, she is going to get so beat up by her own party that people will realize the only way the Democrats keep the Whitehouse is to pick a different candidate. Enter Joe Biden! He’s the freaking Vice President, has a ton of experience in just about every imaginable issue and Democrat pundits aren’t even talking about him for President? How is that even possible?!

  2. Thanks for the question MJJ. You’re point is well taken. We’ll be adding questions everyday, so make sure to check back in and see if we’ve pinned one of your favorites against someone else!

  3. Have to say that I like the text, but I must raise another question.

    Do these 80% of people really deserve a right to be asked anything, when they have the right to vote and nevertheless they don’t use it? To illustrate, why should those 8 persons be authorized to affect, even their own “political destiny”, when they do not have enough self-awareness of the importance of the decisions that will be made in their absence?! Not to mention the passive suffrage, whose plain meaning is probably unknown to vast majority of above-mentioned group members.

    Drawbacks of democracy as an imperfect system are obvious and well-known. The right question, from my view, is what prerequisites must an individual have before he or she can truly be trusted with the right to vote?! In other words, how educated, informed and interested one must be in order to be competent to really give a vote “in favor” of his own interests?!

    Until a better political system is invented I guess we will have to settle with democracy and a general active suffrage as its indispensable part. However, what we can do is to try contributing to the idea of a “perfect voter” in every way that we can. This is, how I understand it, precisely the purpose of this website and why I generally support this idea and actions taken in this direction.
    Well done guys.


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