Forty-eight percent of the eligible voters in the United States did not vote in the November 8, 2016 presidential election. We ask, why?
As recently observed by the Dalai Lama, people in the United States and other prosperous countries feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, and no longer a part of their society. Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit and leads to social isolation and emotional pain and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.
The condition of the current American political scene promotes this sense of social superfluousness. It is made up of 535 senators and congresspersons (the "Elites") who are charged with making our laws and who are, presumably, to be held accountable for their actions through elections. But, historically these elections often offer little real choices for the people and have failed to engender meaningful dialogue between voters and those who win the elections. The Elites have their own ideological agendas and have come to operate at a significant disconnect from the people they represent. Big-money politics and the modern media have reduced the American voters to mere spectators. Party conventions, which once offered the possibility of rich democratic participation, are now carefully stage-managed events. Dialogue and community participation are absent. Candidates are produced and packaged for a television audience, celebrated and orchestrated with elaborate storylines, a sales pitch, message discipline, and a showcase of ordinary people to symbolize what the candidates want you to believe he or she stands for. The entrenchment of the two major political parties has contributed to institutional torpor that sucks the life out political debates.
These contemporary practices rest upon a combination of peculiarly American ideas about democracy: First, that democracy is mainly about the right of individuals to choose individual candidates, and not about the value of groups that form around common concerns and participate collectively in an ongoing democratic conversations. Second, that when groups are to be formed in order to elect representatives, the best way to form them is through geographic districts created by politicians who choose (i.e., gerrymander) the voters they want to represent. And third, American elections give all the power to the candidate who emerges with the most votes, and then declares that winner to be the representative of the "whole" district or state. This myth - that the majority stands in for the minority - seduces the electorate to believe that something is present which is in fact absent, namely, true representation. Winner-take-all elections do not stand for genuine participatory democracy.
It is no wonder that almost half of eligible American voters considered their vote useless on Nobember 8, 2016.