Roston Johnson/Mustang News

Brendan Abrams is a liberal arts and engineering studies  junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News editorial.


A curious event in the digital world occurred during this election cycle.
Facebook urged, in a seemingly nonpartisan way, that its users make their political voices heard. Facebook is not alone in this effort. Campaigns like Rock the Vote and celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry all did their due diligence to make sure that anyone who isn’t registered feels compelled to do so.

I should state that this is a good thing. We can all benefit from having a legislature that more fairly represents our nation. However, saying that the pop-culture voter registration efforts are nonpartisan is like eating pizza with a fork or actually knowing all the words to the Cal Poly fight song; it’s simply wrong.

Calm down, democracy dogmatists. I’m not claiming the system is broken or that getting people to vote is unfair. It is clear, however, that those passionate about registration have an unambiguous partisan motive. For instance, greater voter turnout is believed by many to be necessary for liberal victories. But unbeknownst to many liberals, that’s not all there is to the story.

So why are these left-leaning people and organizations so focused on the quantity of voters? The typical assumption is that conservatives are less likely to forgo voting because they are older and/or more fanatical about certain issues. Broadly speaking, this makes sense. The average age of a Republican-leaning voter is 50, as opposed to 47 for their democratic counterparts. According to the Census Bureau, citizens older than 45 have regularly been showing up to the polls at almost twice the rate of citizens under 29 in elections since 1986.

Putting age aside, it is mostly obvious that certain key issues (guns and immigration, for example) elicit some very passionate responses from conservative groups. It would be easy to assume that conservatives who are vehemently against immigration or in favor of looser gun restrictions will show up to vote for the party which caters to them, while younger, less passionate liberal voters will stay home.

But the events of the real world have not played out that way.

Though Republicans took fairly strong control of both the House and Senate, voters from both the liberal and conservative sides have turned out at comparable rates in almost every recent election year (both mid-term and presidential).

This fact becomes more unsurprising when we liberals stop to consider that conservatives have also done their fair share of voter registration campaigning.

If both sides try in seemingly nonpartisan ways to register more voters, neither one comes out on top. As a whole, registering voters does little to advantage any particular political party because the net effect is always goose egg for both sides. This makes the entire topic almost a moot point for anyone not concerned with the altruistic motive of getting people involved in democracy. We should not assign much value to the vote of a potential voter who is not motivated enough to get to the polls.

Admittedly, that’s a bit of a ridiculous statement. But it’s true; it is more effective to give voters a motivation to vote than to annoy them until they give in. Our Republican-controlled congress is living, wheezing, proof of that.

This election cycle, though novel and unexpected, has devolved to a point where the only real motivation to vote is to avoid a situation a little less terrible than the one they’re voting for. The only effective and meaningful way to improve democratic participation is to provide candidates who voters are excited to vote for. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. So, we might as well dig our heels in for our nation’s quadrennial tradition of tug-of-war.

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