Most of us remember what the late hours of Nov. 6, 2012 were like. For those of us watching, many looked on as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden won the 18 electoral votes from Ohio early in the night to help secure what would be a decisive victory over their Republican opponents, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, in the presidential election. By around 1 a.m. EST, Romney had conceded the election to Obama and the President was re-elected for another four years in the Oval Office.
Almost anyone you ask knows at least something about the four people named above. That's because the 2012 election season featured some of the most heavily-advertised campaigns to date. According to the Washington Post, the Obama and Romney campaigns collectively spent almost $1 billion on TV ads alone. Overall, a record of more than 3 million campaign ads costing almost $2 billion aired in federal races across the country. Indeed, it seemed like every channel I turned on had at least one political ad every commercial break. And those campaigns weren't reaching out to the public just through television. From front-yard signs to phone calls in the evening, someone somewhere was making sure you saw or heard "Obama" or "Romney" at least ten times on a given day.
Political campaigns also stressed widespread social media presence, which is on the rise among office-seekers as it is increasingly obvious just how important it is to maintain such a presence in our Internet era. In 2012, Obama had an edge over Romney in almost every type of social media out there, from Facebook to YouTube, Tumblr to Twitter, even Instagram to Spotify.
This isn't to describe what helped Obama win or what Romney needed work on. The point is to illustrate just how flooded everyone was by constant reminders that elections were taking place on Nov. 6, 2012. Regardless of individual opinions and voting habits, potential voters were bombarded by political ads and were regularly told to go out and vote come Election Day. It's no wonder that presidential-election years get such higher voter turnout than do midterm-election years.
So despite a relative lack of political media hurtled at you this year, it's important to remember that Tuesday, Nov. 4, there too will be elections. A significant number of significant elections. Specifically, there will be midterm elections for 33 senators and all 435 representatives of Congress, as well as gubernatorial elections for 36 states and three U.S. territories (See Ballotpedia to see who's running for what office. Also check out Politico's schedule of upcoming elections here and click on your state's races to stay updated). Voter participation this year is particularly important because midterm elections get substantially less media coverage and have much smaller advocacy groups (there are no giant presidential political organizations funded by either of the two dominant parties), and therefore get less voter turnout.
When more people go to vote for the next president of the United States, more voters choose to also cast ballots for other candidates: senators, representatives, governors, state attorney generals, and so on. More voters mean input from more demographics, socioeconomic classes, races, etc. In other words, it means more interests coming together to form aggregate choices that better resemble the general public's wishes.
Without the pressures to vote that come with presidential campaigns, midterm elections don't cause nearly as much of a stir. Many people aren't as inclined to vote as they normally would be. As a result, not as many views are expressed in election results, and public interests may not be properly represented when an official is elected.
To combat this, the process has to begin at the individual level. Start by getting informed. Well, register to vote first. Then start learning about those seeking offices to represent you in your government. Whether you're moderate, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democratic, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party, Tea Party, whatever, there will be information out there about every candidate running for office in your state or district. Be it through the Internet or through word-of-mouth, get informed. Candidates will have their own campaign-run websites. Read up on news coverage surrounding the candidates. Learn from different sources so you don't get only MSNBC's, CNN's, or Fox's views on any given candidate.
I don't want to encourage people to "just vote" -- voting for the sake of voting -- and I obviously won't tell you who to vote for. All I can do is strongly, strongly recommend an approach to voting. And that is to cast ballots based on issues! Think about what's important to you. But also think (and vote) as a citizen, as a part of something greater than an individual, be it your family, your neighborhood, your community, your school, your workplace, or society at large.
If you're reading this wondering where I (didn't) learn my manners from, it's not that I haven't heard the phrase "If you don't want to insult anyone, don't talk politics and religion." Don't worry; I'm definitely not talking religion. But I am talking politics. I'm talking politics because, regardless of what you believe or support, things need to progress. Things need to change. And this is especially true today.
Throughout most of this discussion, I have made some potentially contentious assumptions regarding the act of voting. Primarily, I have assumed that voting is inherently productive and valuable (you might wonder who on Earth would be opposed to voting; reasons vary from the "drop in the bucket" argument, to having to go to work on Election Tuesday, to not supporting any running candidates or even the political system itself). I have done so because of studies like the one cited in this article, which offers rising evidence for the widening gap in Congressional policy-making between the overpowering voices of the few (particularly the rich) and the lack of representation of the many (particularly the poor). We must meet this deleterious rising tide with action, not passivity. We have to work within the system to change it. So vote to be heard. Vote to make a difference. Vote to enact change. Vote to act. Get everyone you know to vote, for these reasons or whatever reasons they think of on their own. Tell people about the elections. Tell people how they can register to vote (it's easy!). Tell people that if we don't do something now, we won't get anything done tomorrow.
Action is necessary to accomplish any task. Voting itself is a form of action. So act.