Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Maybe the key question is really voter turnoff — not turnout

REUTERS/Darren Hauck
When almost half our potential voters don’t vote, democracy is endangered.

Much is written about voter turnout in this last election. Minnesota’s losing its standing as the highest turnout state seems to hurt our state ego. Elections are to select people who will work together to identify problems, seek solutions, debate the issues, and run and fund governments. Isn’t it possible that the question is really voter turnoff and not turnout, especially in the nonmetro areas? Perhaps the two parties — and the media — are so caught up in technology and what the Internet means to politics that they have forgotten people, especially the people scattered across this vast country. 

Arvonne Fraser
Arvonne Fraser

This old farmers’ daughter, an urbanite and a political junkie for almost 70 years, ponders these questions. We hear much about the rural/urban divide but have we forgotten Bill Clinton’s old campaign slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid”?

When pollsters ask the minimum-wage question, even in Republican and rural areas, it wins. When Democratic candidates run away from Obama and “Obamacare,” the Senate turns Republican. Don’t we understand that health care is an economic issue for families — whether they live in small towns, on farms, or in dense metro areas? Don’t we realize that nursing homes — paying minimum wages — are a major industry in many tiny towns across this country?  Does either party recognize that women across this whole country are major contributors to family income, often supporting families by themselves? Many of them don’t have the time or even access to the highly discussed social media.  

Who offered any hope to those in poverty?

What did parties or candidates offer to those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder during the campaign? If potential voters are forgotten by those who are elected to represent them, why should they take time or bother to vote? Gridlock doesn’t breed supporters. When mothers with young children in rural areas have to drive miles to take those children to day care, and schools still operate as if they aren’t also day care centers, something is wrong with our politics. Reproductive rights are important questions for women, but not the only question. Feeding and clothing kids preoccupy parents with low incomes wherever the family lives. And look at the increasing number of kids who are homeless. Which party or candidate offered them any hope?

And what about the men who still feel the world expects them to support a family? That’s impossible for too many. Who in politics thinks about them or offers them hope? The stock market soars and makes headlines, and nobody seems concerned that executives of large institutions — nonprofit as well as for profit — get umpteen times more than the average worker. Homeowners who could pay off their mortgage don’t because the income-tax deduction makes that mortgage economically worthwhile. What party or candidate talked about affordable housing?

An endangerment to democracy

It’s time our candidates and parties thought about those voters who don’t vote and asked themselves why. And it’s time our media did the same. When almost half our potential voters don’t vote, democracy is endangered. Call me an old curmudgeon, but I’m a child of the Great Depression. I still remember when REA — the Rural Electrification Administration — brought electricity to our farm and when the state of Minnesota supported the University of Minnesota so that none of us graduated with student debt. Government is necessary and useful and I’m thankful for my monthly Social Security check. 

Arvonne Fraser is a Senior Fellow Emerita at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and a mother of six and grandmother of seven. She is the author of a memoir, “She’s No Lady: Politics, Family, and International Feminism.” Fraser was a counselor in President Jimmy Carter’s Office of Presidential Personnel and headed the U.S. Office of Women in Development. She served from 1992 to 1994 as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/09/2014 - 03:31 pm.

    Voters, like customers, are always right. As an activist, it’s my job to convince voters to vote and to vote for my guys, it’s not the voters job to be convinced by me.

  2. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 12/09/2014 - 05:58 pm.

    Please explain

    why it’s in the interest of the two major parties to increase voter participation?

    • Submitted by Ted Hathaway on 12/09/2014 - 09:03 pm.


      It probably isn’t. The argument has been made that the parties pursue a tactic of negative campaigning for the express purpose of discouraging swing voters from voting at all. Congress in particular and our electoral process in general is now profoundly anti-democratic. Where to start? The electoral college, over-representation of thinly populated states and districts, our presidential primary process, the Senate, and largely unfettered influence of money on the political process, greatly exacerbated by Citizens United. The voter is increasingly irrelevant. Add to this a Republican party that is largely disinterested in (or actively working against) having a functioning government, and a Democratic party that apparently does not believe in its own product (i.e., government as a positive force in society) and it is no wonder that so many people spend Election Day asking, “Why bother?”

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/10/2014 - 07:51 am.

        GOP Mega Donors

        Are conspiring to get behind one establishment presidential candidate for 2016, so they can save their cash for the general election. They don’t want to make the mistakes they did in 2012, when they funded separate candidates in the primaries.

        Billionaires don’t like to waste their money or let ordinary folks decide who their candidate is. Those decisions are best made in exclusive hotel conference rooms while enjoying a glass of expensive wine.

  3. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/09/2014 - 11:28 pm.

    I have …

    only missed one election in all my almost 69 years. I am still turned off. In my heart I struggle daily with governance no longer in the hearts of “elected” officials. I read in the NYT about GOP State Attorney Generals working and recieving huge bundles of money from energy companies to override EPA regulations. I could not finish the article. My one vote cannot stop this nonsense. Posting my disgust gets the process nowhere. Running for office results in those who might represent the general good being repugnantly vilified. Those with money using every tactic including outright lying and totally getting away with it. These same people be supported just rankles me. No pun intended the entire country seems to be on Koch !

Leave a Reply