Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
When I lived in Seward, a very liberal neighborhood in Minneapolis, over the summer, you could spot a Bernie Sanders sign in just about every other yard. Now some have been replaced by “I’m With Her” signs but most were simply removed. What constitutes the majority of propaganda in Seward now are multi-colored, unrecognizable signs for local politicians running for city council or state level positions. I have noticed the same in Northfield. While rural and liberal, Northfield does not have many Hillary or Trump posters and there are more, it seems, for local candidate elections. When my parents drove from California to Georgia a week ago, they reported remarkably few major candidate yard signs even in Souther states that traditionally lean Republican. They too remarked that posters for local candidates were more visible.
I think we can look at this situation in two ways — either people are not confident enough in their candidate to link themselves to them publically or they are so disenchanted by the negativity of this election that they are choosing channel their frustration though focusing on local elections. This election is hyperpolarized with more voters choosing to vote against a candidate they dislike than for the candidate they like the best. We can see this is some recent anti-Trump protesters who rallied against his comments about women. It is not an assumption that all of these protesters will vote for Hillary and scenarios like these continue to further divide the American public politically. While this phenomenon gives support to a different model of voting such as instant-runoff or preferential voting, I think it gives voters much insecurity especially if voters are choosing the “least bad” candidate. While insecurity is affecting public displays of voter support, I think the negativity surrounding the presidential election is causing people to pay more attention and throw more support behind candidates in smaller roles of power. Whether there are more signs for local candidates or if it simply a perception, I think this is one positive we can take from a messy, rude, scandalized, and uninspiring presidential election cycle.
However, will voter overall decrease this year? Voter turnout is very low in the United States at around 60% of eligible voters in presidential election years. While I am making a presumption that the negative presidential race will not affect people who usually vote to not-vote which is a real possibility according to a Pew poll in July. Some people will be too disenchanted by the candidates to vote in November. US political cycles are never without some bad mouthing but this cycle is especially ugly with accusations of the candidates being “crooks” or “rapists”, consistent smear campaigns, and historically neutral newspapers throwing support behind the most morally-permissible candidate.
However, the Pew poll from July also found that more people are following the election, are more knowledgeable about the candidates and their positions, and believe that it “really matters” who wins for our country’s sake. This election cycle shows the highest amount of thought about a presidential race for the last 25 years. Pew did not find a correlation between voter dissatisfaction and decreased turnout and candidate satisfaction and increased turnout but I believe that the increased interest in the election will counteract some if not all of the historic voters that will refrain from voting this year.
If we assume that we will have some experienced voters not voting and some enraged or especially intrigued citizens voting for the first time, I think that we will find an increase in the often low attended local elections. This is where I see voters finding a productive outlet to their frustration. However, shifting the mindset from presidential to local elections to find a positive does not solve the overhead problem that Americans are unsatisfied by the government as a whole. Some people believe November 8th will be the end of this frustrating election, but it will be just the beginning for the candidate that is elected to heal this widespread dissatisfaction.
“2016 Campaign: Strong Interest, Widespread Dissatisfaction.” Pew Research Center U.S. Politics and Policy. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 07 July 2016. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.