Too many Americans think that political engagement begins and ends with a vote. The election results on down-ticket races prove that.
This was to be the year of the anti-establishment movement. This was to be the cycle where a “throw all the bums out” attitude was to be realized. This was to be, and was in many cases, the time to rage against the machine by the “angry and ignorant” crowd. This was not supposed to be business as usual if you listened to the rhetoric from both fringes.
With the dust settling and the numbers solidifying we can now see that this election was anything but a rebellion or revolution in any way, save for the presidential race; and that was less an insurrection and more a choice between the lesser of two evils.
In the US House there were 424 incumbents who ran for reelection, 242 Republicans and 182 Democrats, and overall 91% of them were successful. More telling is the average percentage of vote received by a congressional incumbent was 65% for Republicans and 70% for Democrats. In a world where 10 points is considered a blow-out, what do you call margins of victory exceeding 30 points?
In the state legislatures, of the 44 states that held elections, 2,853 Republicans ran for reelection along with 2,242 of their Democratic colleagues. More than 90% won with more than 70% of the vote.
The numbers do not lie, and these ones show that ignorance outweighed anger in the down-ticket races across the country. Instead of taking a chance on an unknown, the people went with the evils they knew. It’s easy to write that off as hedging bets close to home, while taking a big gamble on the White House. But, that ignores the real problem.
Too many people claim that they are engaged in politics simply because they show up at the polls on election days. That isn’t engagement. Throwing fits on social media over presidential elections while essentially ignoring the down-ticket races isn’t engagement, either. True political engagement starts now, and involves learning about the people on your school boards, in your town and city halls, in your county courthouses, and in your state capitals. It means taking the time to learn where your local, county, and state tax dollars are going. Political engagement means knowing about all levels of government at least a little, acquainting yourself with the current and potential leaders in your own backyard, and starting the search for ones who really do belong higher up in government before election day rolls around.
In 2017, the power brokers who are focused on just the federal level will be calling it an “off year.” Bluntly, they’re hoping the majority of Americans continue to agree with them, because they know that real change in government can happen from the bottom up. They would prefer to keep change coming almost exclusively from the top, and as long as most Americans aren’t truly engaged in the political process, they will get what they want. This election, they got what they wanted, because the majority of Americans were focused only on the top office. What about next time?