We just finished the mid-term congressional elections, and soon the political focus will center on the 2016 Presidential elections. The current front runner for the Democrats is Hillary Clinton. For the Republicans, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a potential candidate who is generating some enthusiasm.
Let’s assume for a moment it ends up being Hillary versus Jeb in 2016.
Here’s one thing recent history has taught us: once elected to a first term, a president is likely to get re-elected to a second term. Going back to 1968, five of the seven presidents elected to a first term won re-election to a second term.
So let’s assume that whoever wins in 2016, Hillary or Jeb, he/she also wins re-election in 2020 and serves out a complete second term. If this happens, it would mean that for 28 of the 36 years between 1989 and 2024, the United States would be lead by a Bush or a Clinton.
The 2010 census put the U.S. population at 316 million. 316,000,000 people in the country, but seven of nine presidential elections would be won by members of two families. When I grew up, I was taught in school that in the United States, anyone could grow up to be president. Nothing was said about having to change your name to Bush or Clinton,
Now, about those mid-term congressional elections we just had. In polls before the election, the public approval rating for congress was as low as 9%. That’s one out of ten. So how many of the bums were thrown out?” Well, not too many. 96% of incumbents won re-election.
So we disapproved of 91 out of every 100 congressmen, yet we reelected 96 out of 100.
What do these numbers tell us? Well, I’m not going to discuss swings to the right or left, what’s shifting or who does or doesn’t have a mandate. Those are all opinions. The numbers I stated up above are fact (except for the speculation about the 2016 and 2020 presidential races). So what in my opinion do the facts tell us?
Well, I think they say that the system is seriously broken. When only two families are in the most powerful position in the world for 28 of 36 years, it’s obviously unrealistic to say that anybody can become president. Democrat or Republican, it’s hard to believe that in a country of 316 million people, the best choice has been a Bush or a Clinton so often.
In the mid-term elections, it’s estimated that campaign donations totaled $3.7 billion. That’s not much when you consider that $7.5 billion was spent on Halloween! Trick or treat! (Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/11/06/the-2014-election-cost-3-7-billion-we-spend-twice-that-much-on-halloween/)
But here’s the thing: that $3.7 billion in campaign funding was donated by an estimated 670,000 people, or about .2 percent (.two, or two tenths of a percent, or .002. not to be confused with two percent, or .02) of the population. And since money is the biggest factor in winning elections, it means that two tenths of a percent of us is determining who our leaders are.
How do we change this?
We can try and get campaign finance reform passed, try to get the Citizen’s United supreme court ruling overturned. Great idea, but not likely to happen when the incumbents are the ones benefitting from the current system.
The only answer is more spending from more of us. Lets look at the numbers:
$3, 700,000,000 raised in the 2014 mid-term elections
670,000 (.002 of the population) donors in 2014 election
$5,522 average donation per donor
If ten percent of the population donated, that would result in 31,600,000 donors (compared to 670,000 in 2014)
If the average contribution for that 10% was $125, they would raise $3.95 billion, thus outspending the $3.7 billion raised by the .02 percent of the population.
Asking ten percent t of the population to participate in the political process doesn’t seem to be too much .
You say, that’s fine and well, but you’re ignoring the most important number of all: voter turnout. Voter turnout in 2014 was only 36%, the lowest rate since 1942. But I’d argue that voting is just the punctuation on the sentence that money writes. Many voters are turned off by the spending, by the negative ads. If more of them were to be involved in what is the real political process, the funding of elections, more of them would vote, and most importantly, the votes would support the money invested. More candidates, more challengers, would have more funds, and be able to get their message across to whatever the voter turnout would turn out to be. I have no doubt, for example, that many candidates for many offices had great ideas and would have made better representatives than many of the incumbents, but they were never heard, drowned out by the money donated by the point two percent.
$125 is a significant cost for many of the 10% that would be asked to contribute. But maybe it’d be better to skip a Halloween and try a different form of trick or treating. We might be surprised at what we get.