A voter casts her ballot at a polling site during early voting for Georgia's primary election in Atlanta on May, 16, 2014.
David Goldman/AP

The turnout statistic Republicans hate most

In his post-election press conference, President Obama mentioned in his opening remarks, “[T]o everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
 
Republicans were furious. By noting that two-thirds of the public didn’t bother to show up for the midterm elections, the president was subtly suggesting the Republicans’ victories were less impressive.
 
The trouble is, Obama was correct. Jose DelReal reported this morning:
General election voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest it’s been in any election cycle since World War II, according to early projections by the United States Election Project.
 
Just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots as of last Tuesday, continuing a steady decline in midterm voter participation that has spanned several decades. The results are dismal, but not surprising – participation has been dropping since the 1964 election, when voter turnout was at nearly 49 percent.
 
The last time voter turnout was so low during a midterm cycle was in 1942, when only 33.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
In 1942, the nation had just entered World War II.
 
To be sure, voter turnout in midterm elections is always lower than in presidential elections, so no one was expecting impressive vote totals last week.
 
But 36.4% is practically the punch line to a bad joke. There were broad assumptions in recent months that Americans simply didn’t much care about these elections, and it now appears those assumptions were correct. Indeed, even pessimists didn’t expect turnout to drop to a 72-year low.
 
That’s not, however, what Republicans want to hear.
 
As a simple matter of arithmetic, it’s awfully difficult for a party to claim a broad national mandate for an unpopular policy agenda when just over half of just over a third of the country shows up to vote in the party’s favor.
 
But that’s what happened.
 
The more salient point, however, is that voter turnout at these rates isn’t good for either party – or for the country overall. Increasingly, voters have decided to simply tune out and give up when it comes to Washington dysfunction. The apathy is tragically counter-productive – what Americans don’t like about politics invariably gets worse when voters withdraw – but the fact remains that the electorate is disengaging at striking levels.
 
Maybe a few dozen more “repeal Obamacare” votes will reinvigorate our democracy?
 
Keep these turnout statistics in mind the next time GOP leaders hold a press conference to announce “the American people” sent Republicans to pursue a far-right agenda.
 

Midterm Elections 2014

The turnout statistic Republicans hate most