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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Commentary

Grant: The high-stakes’ midterms

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In a recent one-vote margin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the validity of prayer before public meetings. It was a highly contentious issue and brought immediate comments from both sides of the issue. Regardless of where one sides on the issue, the fact is that the court is deeply and narrowly divided. So is the country.

As the justices age and vacancies occur, the nomination by the president and confirmation by the Senate will determine who sits on the court. It matters greatly who occupies the Oval Office and who sits in every seat of the Senate.

And it is not just on the court. Every vote counts. American history is replete with elections won by one or by a handful of votes.

A large portion of people who could vote are not even registered. In a big election, if half of the registered voters turn out, it is considered a big turnout. One vote can determine the outcome of any election from the schoolhouse to the White House.

Unfortunately, it appears that interest in politics is waning to an all-time low. There seems to be more interest in the recent NFL draft than in the midterm elections.

Democracy depends on people taking part. If citizens don’t bother to vote, if they are prepared to leave public matters to others, if they don’t bother to find out about issues, or if they just complain about things they don’t like and do nothing about them, then democracy won’t survive, and our rights will be weakened or lost.

A recent Gallup poll backs up the lack of interest. A majority of U.S. registered voters, 53 percent, say they are less enthusiastic about voting than in previous elections, while 35 percent are more enthusiastic. This 18-percentage-point enthusiasm deficit is larger than what Gallup has measured in prior midterm election years, particularly in 2010 when there was record midterm enthusiasm.

Among registered voters, 42 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting, while 50 percent are less enthusiastic, resulting in an eight-point enthusiasm deficit. But Democrats are even less enthusiastic, with a 23-point deficit.

Typically, the party whose supporters have an advantage in enthusiasm has done better in midterm elections.

A separate measure, one that historically has been predictive of turnout, asks Americans how much thought they have given to the election. Twenty-six percent of Americans say they have given “quite a lot” or “some” thought to this year’s midterm elections, much lower than Gallup’s initial measurement in 2010.

Not surprisingly, Americans usually give more thought to the election as it draws nearer — but in midterm election years, that typically has represented only about half of the public right before the election. The lower level of engagement at this point, compared with similar points in prior years, may indicate that overall voter turnout will be lower than in the last two midterm elections.

The 2014 midterm elections are incredibly important for the future of the country. The big Senate turnover of 2008 comes up for re-election this year. The House appears to be safely in GOP hands after the election, but the battle is in the Senate, where a six-vote turnover could result in Sen. Harry Reid becoming minority leader and place both houses in the hands of Republicans.

These midterm elections have high stakes, and the presidential race of 2016 even higher ones. Voter turnout is crucial, no matter which side one is on.

I have more respect for those I disagree with who get involved than I do with those with whom I agree and choose to sit on the sidelines and complain.

Are you serious about the future of America? Do you want to have a say?

If so, now is the time to get involved. The election is a mere five months away, and a lot needs to be done between now and then. Let’s make sure we all do our part.

That’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it.

John Grant is a political columnist who served 21 years in the Florida Legislature. He can be reached at MyOpinion@johngrant.net.

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