Katharine Biele’s recent article “Where Are the Voters?” [Hits & Misses, Sept. 13, City Weekly] asserted that the public “just think the [November] outcome is a forgone conclusion, so why vote?”
At the Hinckley Institute of Politics, we’re observing the exact opposite response. In fact, the results of our University of Utah straw poll conducted last week with a sample of 1,510 freshmen, sophomore, juniors, seniors and graduate students is cause for great optimism—particularly considering 18- to 25-year-olds are traditionally one of the lowest-voting demographics.
The poll found that not only are 90 percent of the sampled students “interested” in the 2012 presidential election, 58 percent of students defined themselves as “very interested.” More heartening still, 83 percent plan to vote Nov. 6, and 76 percent are already registered to do so. The upcoming election is far from a forgone conclusion. Whether it’s the Matheson-Love race, the Crockett-McAdams race or, of course, the Obama-Romney race, the outcomes are too close to call, and Utahn public opinion is, indeed, mobilizing.
First, let’s look at the 4th District showdown between six-term incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love. While the most recent polls show wildly different results, the race is gaining national coverage as one to watch. If Love upsets the popular, blue-dog Matheson, she would be the first Republican black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Thanks to three spirited debates, Utahns are taking note of the two candidates’ platforms—particularly their dichotomous stances on student loans, the Department of Energy and the ideal size of government.
The Salt Lake County mayoral race also promises to be a nail biter. Republican Mark Crockett and Democrat Ben McAdams are turning heads over their battleground issues: mass transit, the possible incorporation of Millcreek and the already heated SkiLink proposal. The most recent polling, conducted by Ben McAdams’ campaign, indicates that the Democratic state senator is trailing by eight percentage points with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
And, of course, there’s the presidential election, which is being heralded as one of the closest in a decade (although not in Utah, where Romney will win in a blowout). While national voter turnout is not expected to be as high as the 2008 election, a Gallup poll of 12 swing states, published Sept. 20, found that 59 percent are either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic, up from 46 percent in July. Admittedly, Utah’s affection for Romney coupled with its Republican leanings make it far from a battleground state, but every Democratic vote counts in parrying the wave of straight-ticket voters expected to show up en masse for Romney.
The local races listed above are genuinely close, but what if you think your vote truly doesn’t count?
First, polls are far from infallible. In the 1980 presidential election, a June poll confidently forecast a second term for President Jimmy Carter, and Carter still led in several polls in late October. Of course, in November, Reagan soundly defeated Carter, 51 percent to 41 percent.
Second, when public apathy creates a vacuum, narrow, nonpublic-minded interests will always fill the void. Democracy only works when the populace is engaged. Moreover, every vote genuinely does count. The larger the victory, the more the winning candidate feels a mandate for her policies. Likewise, every added vote for the loser strengthens the losing party’s resolve in opposing the victor and bolsters the rationale for worthy candidates to challenge again the next time.
Robert M. Hutchins said, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment.” Remember that voting is not just an assertion of your freedom—it is actively maintaining it.
Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics
University of Utah