The Seattle Times carried a column recently captioned "America isn’t broken; its leadership is." While there is something to be said for the former statement, and much for the latter, I think the formula gives the citizenry too easy a pass. It’s true that politics, in the sense of the actions of the political class, is in terrible shape, and there is no reason not to be frank about the primary source: the Republican Party, in action and in obstruction. Adding the failings on the Democratic side, we could, therefore, legitimately focus on "leadership" as the problem to be solved. However, that analysis avoids the root cause: too many voters choose Republicans.
At first glance, it’s difficult to see how GOP dominance will end, given the flood of money available, directed unevenly toward Republicans, and the effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Neither of the latter two are going to go away soon since both are the work of Republican legislatures. However, that dominance need not last forever; there are many potential votes not being cast.
An illustration came from a column by Ron Judd, also in The Seattle Times, which pointed out the irony in the passage of Initiative 1366 - the convoluted attempt to require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature for any tax increase - with only a bare majority of votes, far less than two thirds. He pointed out that the "yes" vote amounted to 16% of registered voters: a super majority rule imposed by a small minority. (The final tally put the yes vote at 19.06% of registered voters, but his point stands). According to the Secretary of State’s office, the number of registered voters, 3,975,958, is only 76% of those eligible to register (hereafter "eligible voters" or "eligibles") have done so. That would put the number of eligible voters at 5,231,524, so the yes vote on I-1366 amounted to 14.4% of eligible voters, and the total vote, yes and no, was 28.12% of the eligibles. Apart from whatever significance that has for the Initiative, it reflects a serious disconnect between citizens and their government.
It isn’t a phenomenon peculiar to Washington, or to this year’s election. In the 2014 election — an "off year" in the sense of not including a presidential race, but more significant than this year — the national turnout was 36.3% of eligible voters. As The New York Times put it, "The abysmally low turnout in last week’s midterm elections — the lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent." That is indeed a problem for Democrats, but it also suggests a solution. Yes, they need to continue opposition to voter-suppression laws, but they need to get out the vote, and if demographics are any guide, there are a lot of potential Democratic votes out there. The Times attributed the poor turnout to "apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns." Not much can be done about the last, and anger, it seems to me, is more significant as a spur to conservatives than a disincentive to liberals. Apathy is the problem for Democrats. They need to present a program which people will believe is in their interest. Thus far, Bernie Sanders is one of the few to realize that.