What are most American voters thinking as they enter the voting booth? Sadly, most exit polls rarely ask such questions. So, without data, we are left to speculate on voters’ minds as they step into the booth.
First time voters are often excited to become a grown up. They see themselves as affirming their constitutional status as an American. More often than not they are influenced by their family or close acquaintances. Most often, they likely blindly follow their parents or intentionally rebel against them. It is amazing to learn how frequently they cannot remember the candidates’ names, but that’s because they’re not thinking about the issues. They’re thinking about growing up.
But once they’ve grown a bit and started careers or families, people generally become party voters or issue voters. Many people, especially in elections in which they have less information, just vote along the party line.
On the other hand, many people vote for certain rights and interests—women’s rights, abortion, and immigration are in the spotlight right now—and the candidates with whom they most closely agree on those issues.
Of course, no one will perfectly agree with everything a candidate promises, so people have to decide which issues are most important, the ones on which they are unwilling to bend. Some in a certain tax bracket always vote for or against certain spending and tax issues. People who care most about the environment may vote for candidates who promise to prioritize conservation. And those without jobs probably tend to vote for someone who promises to get them one.
That sounds like democracy in action. If people are reasonably well informed on the issues (maybe a big assumption, but let’s be generous), and act on that knowledge in the voting booth, what’s the problem?
The problem is that the importance of issues and party to the average voter has created a cadre of politicians unwilling to give an inch on any issue for fear of alienating supporters. It has created a system that once again threatens to shut down the federal government. And it has created a system in which a man like Donald Trump – all objective evidence to the contrary – can become a viable Presidential candidate.
How many voters seek to sustain their joy of citizenship and go into the voting booth thinking of THE GREATER GOOD of the whole country? Probably fewer than write in “Mickey Mouse” on their ballots.
In fact, very few would agree on what exactly the greater good even means. And that’s A GOOD THING. The greater good is not an end in itself. It’s the means to an end, something bigger than the individual issues that dominate our political process. Maybe if politicians thought that voters cared more about some nebulous greater good than any one specific issue, we wouldn’t have the grid-locked, highly partisan system we have today.
That sure sounds like a naïve bit of wishful thinking – and no doubt it is – but isn’t it about time to think about something bigger, or maybe even greater?