Isn’t it ironic that the United States can be both admired and despised by people of other countries for precisely the same thing: Our democratic values.
Those values have been hard fought; they have cost many lives; they have been challenged throughout the ages and continue to be challenged today. Whether we’re talking about the values represented by the Civil Rights Movement or the Labor Movement — both of which are intertwined — voting for a democratic, representative government is the mechanism by which those values come to fruition. Sadly, far too few people vote in this nation. Despite the fact that there are so many examples of people in other nations fighting for the right to freely elect their representatives, here in America voter turnout dropped from 40.9% to 36.3% in 2014.
It has been said that Americans will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote. And the facts bear this out: Only 57.5% of those eligible voted in the 2012 presidential election. In New York, only 31% of registered voters cast a vote in the last presidential primary. It is no wonder that New York ranked 44th in voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election! Older adults, to their credit, are not to blame. Approximately 70% of senior citizens voted in the 2012 presidential election — which was an increase in voting from 70.3% to 71.9% — despite the attraction of President Obama among younger voters.
There has also been an increase in the number of senior voters, partly attributable to the rise in the number of people who are now in the 65-plus age group — the fastest growing demographic in America. Indeed, as baby boomers age and increase in numbers, the seniors’ share of the electorate rose by 6%, while younger voters’ share declined by the same 6 percent.
Indeed, it’s young adults who have poor voting statistics. Regrettably, too many seem to care more about reaching the age to drive than to vote. In fact, young adults had the poorest voting record in the last presidential election: just 21%. And adults ages 25 to 64 voted at only 37%.
There are some other noteworthy voter trends as well.
For the first time ever, black voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout, 66.2% versus 64.1% in the last presidential election. Voting among Latinos, despite a huge population increase which created the potential of 2.3 million more Latino votes, actually decreased by nearly 2%, to only 48%. Women below age 65 vote 4% more than men, 63.7% versus 59.7%, but after age 65, the reverse is true.
It is clear that we have a lot of work to do to educate and motivate more citizens from all age groups and demographics to vote. But with so much at stake, from human rights to worker rights, it may very well fall upon the individual union worker to help save the day. In recent decades, the long battle to protect unions, which stand up for the rights of working men and women — and in reality, built and preserve the middle class — has grown intense. Some of our traditional allies have left us or diminished in their fervor, while the union-bashers and unionbusters have intensified.
Nationally, only one in nine workers is a union member. But in New York City, workers who belong to a union have actually increased from 21.5% to 25% since the last presidential election, with public sector union workers constituting 70% of all City workers. That represents a tremendous voting bloc. So, when we enter the voting booth, we would do well to consider the pledges of the candidates and, equally important, their proven track records in getting the job done. Whether it’s job creation and retention, immigration, education, gun control, climate change, trade agreements, taxes, Medicare, the Affordable Health Care act, or choices for the Supreme Court, consider your choice carefully. Your vote is not just your voice, it’s also the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of any democracy. It should be cherished, used with intelligence and pride.
Much has been written that this election could be a game-changer. If that is the case, every vote will count and sitting this one out is not an option. And, don’t forget that union workers, especially in New York City, comprise a large portion of the overall population. You are an important factor in determining the outcome of the presidential election. I therefore urge you to listen to the candidates thoughtfully. At a time when every tactic is being used to get your attention, go beyond the noise. Read more than a bumper sticker promise; read about the candidate’s full plan. Don’t get caught up in the entertaining theatrics of the blame-game. Ask the tough questions, check the facts and remember: Only George Washington didn’t have a previous administration to fault. Most important, urge your children and other young people to vote.
The good and the bad thing about democracy in America is that anyone can become President. That’s also the problem! So, to get the President you want, it’s like that old slogan from the Lottery: “You gotta be in it to win it!” Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Vote! Your future, the future of our nation and the labor movement rely on the results.