Democracy: More Than a Word

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes so can a statistic–in this case three, which were published on the front page of USA today a few days ago (in an article unrelated to democracy).

  • The U.S. voting age population consists of 206 million
  • There are 173 million registered voters
  • In 2004, 122 million cast their votes

When I compare these numbers to the much touted 35 million votes cast for both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, I am no longer as impressed. Maybe a lot of new voters have indeed been added, but oh there’s a long way to go. While this long way applies to the presidential candidates’ individual campaigns, I believe it applies even more to democracy. We like to use the word, but perhaps we’re so busy using it, we forget how to practice it.
If there are 173 million registered voters and 206 million people of voting age, that means 33 million people are not registered–almost as many as those who voted for the two main Democratic party candidates.
If 122 million cast their vote in 2004, and there are 206 million of voting age, even if adjusting for population growth one were to say in 2004 there were 200 million people who could have voted, that means 78 million did not either vote or register.
One can go on and play with these numbers, but the bottom line would be the same: How democratic are we when a large percentage of our eligible voters do not participate in the system.
These are numbers that ought to give humility to presidential candidates. The percentage of the voting age population, and even more that of the population as a whole, who is supporting a given candidate is such a fraction of the whole. Let’s hope this inspires both to send a compelling message urging people to participate, or be resigned to accept a victory that is hollow and superficial, representing but a sliver of the real majority the word democracy would imply.
Of course we can’t put it all on the back of the candidates, we need to bear some of the responsibility. We need to do our part, be informed voters and vote. And if this seems too much–for it often is in a system so dominated by politics–then we must be willing to make whatever little sacrifice in order to ensure that democracy is more than a word.