A national survey conducted in 2014 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that potential voters, as a whole, don’t know a lot about our government. I’m sure matters have only gotten worse in the meantime:
- Fourteen percent are illiterate.
- Sixty-four percent cannot name the three branches of the federal government.
- Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
- One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
- Twenty-six percent think the sun goes round the earth.
The “sun going around the earth” thing doesn’t involve our government, of course. I thought I’d throw that in for perspective.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about our “duty to vote.” Let’s talk about that. And by “let’s,” of course it means I am going to talk, and hopefully you are going to read. I like writing to you, because you don’t interrupt. You may, however, respond after you’ve politely listened. I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a comment.
Voting isn’t a duty. It’s a right. Some will accuse me of being un-American when I discourage people from voting. Maybe they should study the Annenberg survey a bit more closely. I cared about this country enough to learn about it. Suggesting that uninformed voters go to the polls is like asking folks to grab hold of an electric fence when they don’t know about electricity. Problems can be solved if they’re wearing rubber gloves or have enough sense to turn the power off first. Otherwise the results are shocking and they’re almost always going to be unhappy. It’s a right. Not a duty. It’s not a moral necessity to grab a live wire.
The people questioned in the Annenberg survey (theoretically, that’s us) prove to a mathematical certainty that a majority of people in this country vote when they don’t know what they’re voting about. Far too many of them vote because they saw “something” on TV or the Internet and believe they’re doing something about it. If you believe the same thing, without having done some research and fact-checking, then I have some attractively-priced swamp land I’d like to show you.
In this day and age, when information is so readily available—when we are able to carry the information in our hip pocket—there is no excuse to be deliberately dull, intentionally ignorant or both. But our laws grant such people the right to vote. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. They say everybody’s vote counts. That’s precisely why I’ve worked myself into an agitation. There are lots of people talking about the election right now. That doesn’t mean they know anything. When Dorothy asked the Scarecrow “How can you talk without a brain?” he said “I don’t know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two majority choices for President because we voted for them. Remember? There were primaries. And if you say, “Hey, I didn’t vote for either one of them!” I say: “Then it was the Scarecrows. Stop encouraging the Scarecrows to vote!” This is no straw vote on Tuesday. It counts.
People who vote on the basis of a television “sound bite,” without any kind of serious fact-checking, are doing this country a disservice. You can’t fix “stupid,” but, though legal, it’s illogical and unreasonable to encourage them to vote.
I’m also not a fan of allowing teenagers to vote. I’ll be tarred and feathered for this, but they generally will not vote wisely. It’s pretty simple; they haven’t lived long enough and in all fairness, they have no skin in the game. You could argue that it’s their future at stake, but does no one remember that their future is our responsibility—and that we’re not handling it well? If it were my world, I’d raise the voting age to about 25 to gain some degree of level-headed discrimination. Level-headedness, to me, requires the ability to understand that researching the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a little more important than what Miley Cyrus wore to the Emmys. A lot of people would disagree with that statement. Most of them are teenagers.
In a recent column, Fred Reed said, “…. During Vietnam, the argument was that if the young were old enough to die in Asia, they were old enough to vote. And if six-year-olds are old enough to die in car accidents, they are old enough to drive.”
Lincoln is quoted as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” There are too many elected officials these days who feel you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.
Mike Rowe, in a recent Facebook post, said “Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor – ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls.”
2 thoughts on “The Scarecrow Vote”
Both major parties have tried their best to make voting an emotional event rather than an exercise in judgement. “Do you feel that you are better off (or worse off) then four years ago?” “Would you like to have a beer with our candidate?” “Which candidate do you think would do a better job of running the country?” And, so on and so forth. Elections, during my lifetime, have turned into popularity contests rather than debates about how the administration will impact the country during the next four years. My first brush with this mentality happened in 1964 when Johnson ran an TV ad that implied Goldwater would unleash nuclear weapons and effectively end the world as we knew it. That made me feel like I needed to stockpile food and stash a “bug out” bag in the trunk of my car.
I remember the TV ad well. So many of us remember it that methinks you’ve sharpened my point. Madison Avenue has only gotten cleverer since then.