Vijay K. Mathur
“A man without a vote is a man without protection.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
Ill-informed voters and low voter turnout, aside from threatening democratic values, often end up electing politicians who decide on policies that result in adverse economic consequences for most Americans. Pew Research reports that in the 2016 presidential election 61.4% of the voting age population in the U.S. voted, the same as in 2012.
In Utah, the 2016 voter turnout was an impressive 82%. Republicans in the Utah Legislature have had a supermajority since 1992. This supermajority of Republicans in both state Houses is surprising, since only 45% of the voters are declared Republicans. Unaffiliated declared voters are 37% and only 13% are Democrats, according to v. Hence it is more likely that voters in Utah are driven by their conservative ideology and political spin on policy stands, rather than by party affiliation.
Alexander Field states in the December, 2017 Journal of Economic Literature, “ An ideology is an integrated system of belief about how the world should be, how the world is, and how new evidence about the state should be interpreted and used.” Note, ideology clouds independent judgment since it is subject to an ideological interpretation of facts and logic.
Hence, elected by ideology, Utah legislators know that their status is secured. Therefore they were emboldened to change the voters’ recently passed propositions on Medicaid and medical marijuana. The changes will reduce the expansion of Medicaid, thus depriving health care benefits to thousands of Utahns. The state monopoly in medical marijuana will create barriers to entry in production resulting in higher prices. This is the cost voters will pay for electing people on ideological grounds and making ill-informed decisions on politicians.
Nationally, the most alarming fact is that voters who suffer the most from unfavorable economic policies have the lowest voting record. Voting percentages increase with education and income. Blacks and Hispanics have lower percentages than non-Hispanic whites. Young voters (18-29 years of age) vote less than voters of age 45 years and older, according to the Census Bureau. US.. government economic policies reflect this tilt in voting patterns, favoring older, wealthy and white voters.
Most voters old and young, low income and middle class, complain about wealth and income inequality. However, despite promises, the 2017 tax cut primarily benefited corporations and the rich. The research by Professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, reported by David Leonhardt of The New York Times, shows that the richest 400 households paid less average tax rate (23%) in 2017 as compared to 1950 (70%) and 1980 (47%). The middle class and poor barely benefited from the tax cut.
Trade policies of the current administration are also economically detrimental to small farmers and workers in the industrial belt, most of whom voted for President Donald Trump. The Republican majority in the Senate and President Trump have also tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), that primarily provides health care benefits to lower income Americans. Voting also affects the choice of politicians who, for example, care about preservation of national parks, cleaner environment and policies to deal with climate change, skills training for unemployed workers, housing affordability and assistance in paying college debt.
Only 63.3% of women voters voted in the 2016 election (the same as in 2012). It did not help their causes dealing with child-bearing rights, childcare, early childhood education, parental leave and real income security. Randall Akee and other coauthors in the March 2018 American Economic Review find that an increase in household income has significant effect on children’s personality traits, emotional well-being, behavioral health, educational attainment and other beneficial adult outcomes.
Voters’ apathy by not voting or by ill-informed voting causes perils for democracy also, because policy decisions are made to please donors and partisans driven by their agenda and/or ideology. Democracy promotes economic stability, as Dan Rodrik finds in his study published in the American Economic Review in May 2000. Economic stability is vital for economic growth, employment, and the vitality of financial and labor markets. We are witnessing this instability in the Trump administration and its adverse consequences.
American voters must get over their excuses for not voting or for ill-informed voting. Voting by the missing one-third of voters and better informed voters could change things like registration barriers, gerrymandering, placement of voting facilities and voting days; complaints will not resolve such issues. As Louis L’Amour states, “ To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”