Monday, November 1, 2010

Mustering the Energy to Vote

Disillusioned voters. That’s the conventional picture you’ll get from the mass media to explain why voter participation is as low as it is. Voter turnout is recorded as a percent of registered voters, but the real measure is the percent of eligible voters, and it is an extraordinary occurrence when 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Voter turnout goes up when political rhetoric turns more hopeful, down when it is more fearful, but that is not the main reason voters stay home. The bigger issue is rarely mentioned because it isn’t so colorful. People don’t necessarily have the energy, or the basic vitality, to get out and vote. It’s the same problem that has people losing their car keys and buying fast food instead of cooking. One of the great challenges in economics is to find ways to improve people’s vitality in general. With more vitality, people take more action and do better work. If voter participation started to trend upward, it would be a sign that we are making progress in terms of action and vitality in general.