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.
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.
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