Liberty’s Best Kept Secret Weapon: The Low Information Voter
During the 1956 presidential campaign, an enthusiastic supporter called out to the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person.” Stevenson wistfully called back: “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!“
Once known as the “silent majority,” more recently as the nation’s “low-information voters,” these citizens perform their civic duty on election day. They go to the polls. But they cannot say, with confidence, for whom or what they are voting. Yes, when it comes to their occupational callings, investment decisions or sport picks, they may be highly rational. It’s just politics and public affairs that holds little interest for them. It has long been hoped that the silent majority would one day wake and grow politically restive. In 2010, the Tea Party Movement did just that. But it remains a mostly marginal Conservative/Libertarian voice crying out in a vast, Liberal/Progressive wilderness. The majority remains politically asleep. And the silence understandably draws the ire of those who can see the fiscal calamities to come and care deeply about the country’s future. But perhaps the community of the concerned should reconsider its position. The “know-nothings” may yet hold the key to “taking our country back” and “Making America Great Again.” The sudden, shockingly huge outpouring of popular support not just for Donald Trump, but Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, as well, compels us to wonder if American politics is undergoing a deep, dramatic sea-change. Is it not the low information voters who are rallying in droves to wild campaign rallies? Are Americans enraged enough to get permanently engaged in the political process? If so, it’s anyone’s guess as to where it will all take the nation. Why Trump (But Cruz and Sanders, as well)? Why now?
For one thing, low-information voters are not committed liberals or progressives. They are more given to common sense than some “higher” utopian vision. And it’s easy to respect the mood that drives their apathy. First, there is cynicism. Americans have little use for their elected leaders and disdain for the political process, as such. Politicians plead for their votes but rarely keep their word. Any position or solemn campaign “promise” can be “recalibrated” two weeks or two campaign miles down the road. “They are all only in it for themselves.” Sadly, that’s all true. But, apathy is also fueled by skepticism. If the cynic believes there’s nothing we can do about the hopelessly corrupt system, the skeptic believes that there’s no way of knowing what to do. He easily sees that the so-called “experts” all sound persuasive, alone, but sharply disagree when pitted together. Both the cynic and the skeptic withdraw, feeling helpless to put things right.
But, most of all, public apathy is the simple desire to live and be left alone. It is a penchant to care most about the things that matter most: making a living, managing expenses, handling emergencies, and raising the kids. Leisure hours are given to rooting for favorite sports teams, escaping into entertaining fictions and spending quality time with family and friends. Americans place a premium on the sphere of privacy the nation’s laws and customs allow. They go about their business and, to evade government’s interfering ways, will do business “under the table” or “off the books.” They’ll fudge on their tax returns and trade in the “black market.” “[N]ot since the days of Al Capone, a top tax official told NY Post columnist, John Crudele, “has the underground economy been so pervasive.” (NY Post, Jan. 16, 2014). It was a story about “zappers,” cash registers rigged to make transactions “disappear,” enabling store owners to avoid paying sales taxes. America’s legendary spirit of independence is alive and well and living all over the place. Long accustomed to doing as they please, citizens aren’t likely to put up with back-breaking taxes, onerous mandates and suffocating regulatory compliance costs, forever, much less goose-step to any would-be-tyrant’s tune. As Jefferson wrote, “Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing [or just reforming] the Forms to which they are accustomed.” Most families do not yet feel the heavy yoke of government on their backs. Those that do, “vote with their feet.”
Let the heavy hand of government really intrude on the pleasant routines of daily life, leaving no chance of escape, and Americans may well rise to the occasion. Could it happen? Is it happening now, before our very eyes? It wouldn’t be unprecedented. By 2010, millions with no prior history of activism rose up against a new president’s plans to take over the health insurance industry and go $787 billion deeper into debt in a doomed effort to stimulate the economy. An earlier health reform measure, HillaryCare, spurred Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America and led to a Republican rout in the next mid-term election. The 1978 Proposition 13 tax revolt in California resulted in a 50% reduction in property taxes that still stands. And just let our lawmakers fire a volley, i.e., draft a bill, for stricter gun control measures. When the smoke clears and the loud blast of public opinion sounds, the lawmakers high tail it to the tall grass.
What deprivations must Americans suffer before they grow really restive? The answer may lie at “ground zero.” Before a summer=s last sun could set, the fall of two tall towers cast a pale shadow of peril over every American home. Then came the iconic photo. Upon the rubble of two fallen towers, three fearless firefighters raised a flag. They could not know they had lit a torch to light the skies and lift the spirit of every county in the country. By week’s end, a wave of patriotism not seen since the end of the Second World War was everywhere on display. It raced westward like a wind-swe[t fire on a parched forest floor. No commentator could miss or mistake it, as personally unacquainted with the phenomenon as he or she may previously have been. Many told us how hard it was to find words adequate enough to describe the enormity of our sorrow. Few in the media even looked for words to explain the pain-mitigating pride that bravely battled the awful hurt in our hearts.
So, why patriotism? Deep grief over the terrific loss of life, a blinding rage over the terrorists’ success, even a consuming thirst for vengeance would need no further explanation. But there was something else at work. Americans who so proudly displayed the American flag did so to express their abiding devotion to “the republic for which it stands,” aka “the land of the free.” We love this land so much because, more than any other, it allows its citizens to live and be left alone. Yes, in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we tend to take our treasured possessions for granted. And as always, the full depth of the love is only felt upon their loss. In a flash, terror fatally struck the routine of daily life. Three thousand died just for going to their jobs that morning. And, it wasn’t just about the dead and grieving. Terror struck us all. For as it was said so often in the ensuing days, “if we do not feel safe we cannot feel free.” Americans overwhelmingly supported the war on terror and joined the armed forces in droves to ensure the safety of their wives, parents and children.
Peace and prosperity between 1982 and 2008 have allowed Americans to ignore the stinking business of politics. Then the housing bubble burst and times got tough. Now, ObamaCare and all the attendant hardships and sacrifices it will likely bring promises to reduce the pleasantness of daily life even more. The putative Affordable Care Act threatens people’s well-being as nothing before it could. The need to give health care to all and contain the exorbitant cost of doing so will confound everyone’s freedom to choose. It is the response to that impending impact (or perhaps some other unforeseeable threat) that will ultimately measure this nation’s resolve to remain free. When will the average American wake up and reach for her ballot? When the agent from the National Institutes of Health is standing in her kitchen demanding to know precisely what she is feeding her family.
Over time, more and more families will come to feel the pinch of Big Government’s blade against their throats. When friends, neighbors and co-workers are ready to listen, this is what they’ll need to hear: since each person’s well-being is to an enormous extent-affected by prevailing social and economic conditions, since, in a countless variety of ways, those conditions are the product of a nation’s political enactments, and since here, in America, we freely elect the men who write the laws, which create the conditions in which we all prosper or perish, each citizen needs to be informed about the political programs that are being proposed and implemented in his name and make his voice and vote felt. Pass it on.