Monday, January 24, 2011

What "The People" Voted For in 2010

Statements about the meaning, signals and import of the 2010 elections are everywhere in the press, media, blogosphere, and in public statements by elected officials.  No matter the source, there are always a few, and often many, sentences that contain the phrase, "The People". There are a variety of claims about the meaning of the elections, but none irks me more than the claim by any elected official that their position is, based on the last election; 1- The will of "The People,” 2-The voice of “The People,” 3-What “The People” said, 4-What “The People” voted for, and of course by “The People” they mean a majority, if not all “The People.

Obviously it is the, “The People” part that irritates me the most. It irks me because only 40.8% of the eligible voting population nationwide voted and this is not a majority. The only thing about “The People” that any elected official should claim is that "The People", as in a majority, said nothing. To claim to speak for a majority of “We The People” is hubris. The majority of voters, literally the majority, did not vote in 2010.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who represents the 6th Congressional District of Minnesota, shows particular hubris in her claims to speak for “The People”.  The number of votes Ms. Bachmann stands on to claim to speak for a majority is 159,476 votes- a majority only of those who voted in that election. 159,476 votes is only 36.15% of registered voters, and only 25.9% of the population of the district the Congresswoman is, by oath, bound to represent. 

Before anyone goes off saying this is just one district in one state, Minnesota had the highest turnout of any state with 55.5% of registered voters voting. Only 5 other states, Alaska, Maine, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington reached turnout above 50%.  Most states had somewhere between 31 and 47% turnout. Rep. Bachmann is not alone, the folks in Majority Leader Cantor’s district only turned out at a 47.29% rate. Although Democrats are in the same position with respect to turnout, hold the White House and held the Senate, their level of hubris in claiming a mandate is far less.

As so aptly put by Minnesota’s new Governor, Mark Dayton, “we were all elected by a fraction of a fraction, but our job is to represent every Minnesotan.” The GOP is in the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but come on people now, don’t let them get away with suggesting that their position is anything more than the position of a fraction of “The People”. For sure don’t buy it without scrutiny. If we let any elected official get away with claiming a mandate based on the will of  one-fourth of the people  we will not have accountable and responsive government, no matter the character of the elected official.

If you are in the majority, meaning you did not vote, please don’t do that again. I promise when a majority of the voters vote in every election, we will have better government and elected officials who can, based on real majorities claim to speak for, “The People”.

Data Sources: George Mason University, United States Election Project: US Census; MN Secretary of State, Election Results; State of Virginia Elections Board  (68.85% of registered voters, or 303,691 of 441,122 registered voters turned out to vote in the 6th district of Minnesota) 

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