The Way I See It: The Upcoming Election
Don't Let Apathy and Polarization Win.
Over the past decade the divide between Republicans and Democrats has continuously expanded creating untenable party polarization. Both parties are equally guilty in alienating each other – at different times. Statistically, last year saw the most polarized Congress in history. But it's not just the parties that are becoming polarized; it's us – the public – as well.
The American National Election (ANE) Study has been asking Americans since the 1970s to rate different groups on what they call a "feeling thermometer." You can say how warm or cold you feel toward the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, using a scale that runs from zero (completely dislike) to a hundred (like). Statistically ANE shows that Republican feelings about the Democratic Party and Democratic feelings towards the Republican Party are increasingly hostile – accelerating since Bush II was President.
There is a bright side to this though, folks. It is mathematically impossible for the public and congress to get much more polarized than it already is.
That leads me to recent events and the media focus on our political right-wing. Since before the shutdown, Washington has been engaged in a war of destruction – not just between Republicans and Democrats, but a civil war within the GOP. A war between the Tea Party and what remains of the center-right. This war led to a collapse of common sense as Republicans backed into a suicidal government shutdown strategy in an attempt to get President Barack Obama to defund or delay his health care law (which, I must reiterate was already signed into law before this even happened).
I'm echoing these recent events that I've written about in previous columns, because I don't want us to become short-sighted once we walk into the voting booth Tuesday. Do not let party politics choose your candidate. I repeat: Do not let party politics choose your candidate. Most Democrats and Republicans do not want to be categorized into such extreme pockets as the Tea Partiers are. And divided government does not need to mean dysfunctional government.
And furthermore, this is a non-presidential election year, and historically Erie County sees between 21-23 percent of eligible voters show up at the polls. Let's do better than this. This is a critical juncture for all of us, and we shouldn't let D.C. take in all the political oxygen. Your local government affects you more directly than any other public entity – from the roads you drive on to how long it takes someone to come when you dial 911.
I would also like to note a Pennsylvania state law, an ongoing frustration of mine, which may lead to more polarized elected officials: straight-party ticket voting. In the 1990s, there were 20 states that offered a straight-party ticket option; by 2006, that number had dropped to 17 states. Today, Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states that still offer a straight party ticket voting option. There is no question this one little button removes the voter from their responsibility to go out and learn about each candidate; rather this option influences them to vote merely on the principal of party.
The party system is truly meant to serve as guidelines, not a bible, of your thoughts and beliefs about government. If you really want to do our two-party system justice, you'll realize that choosing a candidate isn't just black and white. I know many moderate Republicans (myself included) that feel disdain toward the extreme right. I also know many conservative Democrats that feel the same way about their extremely liberal counterparts. The best ideas, and the most effective reforms, come from a compromised middle, not an extreme ideology.
Don't let the trend of party polarization continue to shape our elected landscape. But also don't let history repeat itself – don't let apathy win in this election
While there will be no national candidates and little political drama, voting is what defines us as a democracy. We fight for free elections all over the world and then become our own biggest hypocrite by not showing up at the polls. We're quick to complain about the current situation and our livelihoods, but slow to turn out to the polls to elect those who have the power to do something about it.
Local elections are decided by a tiny percentage of the electorate. In other words, your vote matters and can easily shape the years to come in our region. Participate in the election on Nov. 5 – research candidates and issues, make time to head to the polls, and take part in the shaping of Erie's future, lest we let apathy and party polarization win another election.
Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Email me at rStyn@ErieReader.com, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn.