What can we do to get rid of the corruption in our government? We complain a lot, but seldom make any significant changes. Our Congress presently has an approval rating of 15% and a disapproval rating of 72%. This is not new. Since 2010 Congress approval rating has fluctuated between a high of 37% and a low of 9% averaging about 15%. But in spite of a low approval rating, nothing seems to change. In 2014, Congress had an approval rating of 11%, but 96.4% of incumbents were reelected. In 2016 it was about the same. So what can we do about it?
A major reason why incumbents are reelected so often is public apathy. This affects a large percentage of the voting population. 40% of eligible voters don’t even vote for president. In mid term elections, 60% of eligible voters don’t vote for members of Congress. In primary elections it’s much worse. In presidential primaries 70% of eligible voters don’t vote and in mid term primaries, nearly 80% of eligible voters don’t vote.
Clearly, we have to convince people that their vote counts and that they really need to get out and vote – in every election. And if they really want to change Congress, then voting in primary elections is even more important.
Voting in primary elections is important for a couple of reasons. First, there are more candidates to choose from. The more choices you have, the greater chance you have of replacing a bad one with a good one. Second, fewer voters turn out for primary elections so each vote is more important. Third (this applies to the House of Representatives and to the state legislatures), legislative districts are gerrymandered so as to bias the election in favor of the dominant party in the legislature. Gerrymandering has no effect in primary elections as they are strictly intra-party elections and there is a greater chance of an unbiased election. As a result, unseating an incumbent is easier to accomplish in primary elections than in general elections.
Any eligible voter can vote in the primary election of his choice – but only one. (Party caucuses are a different problem.) In some states, primary elections are open and voters can choose which primary election to vote in at any time up to the last minute, making it extremely easy. In other states it is more difficult as one has to register his party affiliation. You can also cross-over vote and vote against an incumbent in the other party if you like. However, in states requiring registration of your party affiliation, you have to change your party registration before the election. (Different states have different lead time requirements for this, but if one is serious about it, it is totally doable.)
The bottom line is that if we’re really serious about cleaning the House and the Senate, we need to get the voters to the polls, especially in the primary elections this coming spring.