By Louis Avallone
People of all ages are becoming less engaged with the political process. Unlike Thomas Edison’s adage that “genius is 99% perspiration, and 1% inspiration”, it seems nowadays that voter participation in the political process is wholly dependent on the reverse of that adage: it’s 1% perspiration and 99% inspiration. Here’s what I mean:
There are ample reasons why folks don’t feel “inspired” by our politicians. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans don’t trust either the Democrats or Republicans. There is such broad dissatisfaction with both parties in Congress, in fact, that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans say they are inclined to look around for someone new this fall to send to Washington.
That’s not a big surprise, though. For example, most Americans don’t want Democrats handling their healthcare, and fully 40% of Americans feel that neither the Democrats or the Republican parties are accountable enough to the people…or that either party has done enough to fix our immigration system…or reduce the national debt…or provide meaningful campaign finance reform…or decrease the partisanship in Washington, which they feel is now the biggest problem facing America.
And here in Louisiana, we’re seeing the same. The number of voters registering as “other party” is increasing – now 1 out of every 4 registered voters. And even though Republicans are winning major state elections here at home, The Advocate also reported recently that voters “registered as ‘other party’ or not registered with any political party, are climbing too, as voters distance themselves from either of the mainstream political parties”.
The problem here is that the data shows that “other party” voter turnout is historically lower, compared to those who are registered as Democrat or Republican. If this trend continues, both parties will likely continue to see their numbers decline, and we’ll have an electorate that will be even more detached from the political process than we do now.
So what is really going on here? Voter participation in the political process has decreased, but the number of folks registering as “other party” has increased, and yet Louisiana voters have still elected Republicans to every statewide office. What gives?
We could sit here and make a well-reasoned and analytical explanation, just to make sense of it all, of course. However, I think the migration trend of some voters to “other party” can be explained very simply: voters are not inspired.
Voters increasingly are less and less inspired to follow any political party, it seems. In his book, Start with Why, author Simon Sinek explains that people don’t buy “what” you do, but they buy “why” you do it. For example, how many voters know “why” the Democrat and Republican parties exist? Or “why” these parties should matter to anyone?
The answer may be fuzzy at first, but that’s the rub in all of this. You see, once a political party, or any organization for that matter, clearly communicates their “why” (their purpose, their cause, their belief), then (and only then) can they inspire others to follow.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, though, the increasing number of “other party” voters is not because these voters are seeking some agnostic middle ground, where there is neither right nor wrong. Instead, these “other party” voters seem to be growing because they don’t feel like either party “gets” them, or understands their purpose, their cause, or their belief. These voters abandoned party labels because they saw their party as moving too far from its core values and couldn’t trust the direction it was headed.
And that makes sense. It’s about trust for these “other party” voters. As in business, for example, when we choose one product, service or company over another, it’s because we feel we can trust them more. And when choosing a political party, the decision making process is exactly the same. But we must start with “why” if we are going to inspire others to action.
Our state is served well by individuals who get involved in party politics, and don’t merely check off a box on their voter registration card. These are the volunteers that are the lifeblood to our democratic process. They are the ones walking the neighborhoods, calling supporters, and who spend countless hours organizing party events, speakers, luncheons, and rallies.
They are the ones whose efforts are the least recognized, or appreciated, but perhaps are the most important. They do it because they believe the political process is meaningful and that their work makes a difference…they do it because they are inspired.
Although it was the ethos of hard work and sweat that built this nation, perhaps right now we need less perspiration, and a great deal more of inspiration, to get voters involved in the very democratic process that has nourished our republic now for almost 238 years – before we lose an entire generation to some “other party”.