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THE DISENGAGEMENT PROBLEM

A STUDY OF WHAT DRIVES PEOPLE TO BE POLITICALLY


DISENGAGED IN SALT LAKE CITY
Contents:
1 Voter Turnout

1.1:National Voting history

1.2 Voting in Utah
2 Political Disengagement

2.1 Disengagement vs Apathy

2.2 Effects of Disengagement

2.3 Playing into cadidates
hands
3 Common Causes of Disengagement
4 Disengagement in Salt Lake City

4.1 Interview Questions

4.2 Key Discoveries

4.3 An Unexpected Result

4.4 Causes and Conclusion

JoAnn DeLeau

1. Voter Turnout
1.1 National Voting History

Historically, despite being a leading demo-

cratic nation, the united states has always held a


very low spot on the totem pole of voter turnout.
With a peak in 1960 of 63% its clear that weve
never been too big on exercising the very rights we
fought to obtain.

The last 2 decades havent been any better.

Looking at the numbers you find that between 1996


and 1998 there was an increase in voter registration of 7 million. However, overall, the number of
participants in elections decreased by 2.5 million.
www.ssdan.net

That year, 1998, only 16.7 percent of the younger


population (ages 18-24) took to the polls.

A few years ago things were looking up when

America, which had been ranked 140th out of 163 democratic voting countries in 2000, was bumped up the
scale to 120th out of 169 in 2012. It was a false
hope. That year Americans once again demonstrated
record low voting interest.

1.2 Voting in Utah


Utah used to have one of the highest turnout rates in the nation.

In 1980, 66% of voting age Utahns cast ballots, ranking us 5th in the
nation.

This winning streak was very short lived. In 2014 Utah tied for

3rd lowest voting in the country, with a whopping 28.8 percent turnout
on election day: Only 577,973 voters of out over two million took to the
polls.

2. Political Disengagement
2.1 Disengagement vs. Apathy
Apathy
-lack of interest or concern

Disengagement
-the action or process of
withdrawing from involvement in a particular activity, situation, or group

People often refer to this stay-at-

home epidemic as political apathy and


while that is a real issue, it isnt really THE issue in question.

Since everyone has some sort of opin-

ion on politics -- and if you ask, youll


see those opinions are pretty strong -- it
would be totally missing the mark to accuse any of them of apathy. They do care.
a LOT. Theyre not apathetic, theyre disengaged.

2.2 The Effects of Disengagement


Due to the decrease in participation

by the majority of the American people,


Grassroots
-the most basic level of
an individuals campaigning
crew, the ordinary people
supporting their run

political parties and office candidates


no longer spend as much time focusing on
grassroots. as they used to. Since the majority of people voting are either rich or
well educated or both, they focus only on
the rapidly decreasing portion of people
who WILL take the time to vote, and since
the numbers are so small, its getting
easier and easier to sway the vote one way
or another.

Suddenly candidates and parties no longer HAVE to please the majori-

ty, because the majority isnt going to do anything either way, resulting in
new bills and laws that dont reflect the needs of the people so much as the
needs of the very few who are involved in the election process.

2.3 Playing into the Candidates Hands


Professor of political science and so-

ciology, Frances Fox Piven, made the comment


that, enlarging the electorate creates instability, it creates an incentive for insurgents
-- either third parties or insurgents within
the party -- to enter the race

Historically, this has been something

all major party advocates are keen to avoid,


as getting a third party member in a more important office could disrupt the way the democrats and republicans have been running this
country for centuries. While that wouldnt
necessarily be a bad thing, at this rate, only
the candidates approved by the major parties

www.hhh.umn.edu

will ever make it into office, simply owing to


the nature of the voter pool.

3. Common Political Disengagement Causes


The number one cited cause for not voting in elections is that cit-

izens feel their ballot wont change anything. But you cant explain away
disengagement with one sentence. The factors are endless.

As far as political reason go, many people say that they just dont

trust the political system. Theyll argue that since the political parties
ignore their needs anyway, there is no point.

It has become a vicious

cycle of congressmen ignoring more and more people because they hardly
participate anyway, and less and less people voting because of this ignorance.

4. Disengagement in Salt Lake

Interview
Questions

4.1 Interview Results


To form a well-rounded understanding of inter-

1. What power do you


feel you have to make a
difference in American
politics?

viewees political opinions and record I asked them a

2.How informed do you


think you are when you
vote in general and major elections?

a week, and people were chosen at random. Everyone

3. Who do you think


(people and groups) has
the largest political
influence?

the opinions were.

4. When it comes time


for elections, how would
you rate your motivation
to participate?

5. How patriotic would


you consider yourself,
and what drives/dampers
that patriotism?
6. If you considered
yourself more informed
and/or influential in
American politics, what
would you do differently?

series of 6 questions, leaving them time at the end to


share any remaining thoughts they had.

The interviews were done over the space of about

from family to coworkers to random people met on trax.


While the age and position varied greatly, what made
the entire thing so intriguing was how similar many of

4.2 Key Discoveries


Everyone interviewed said that they felt they had

little to no influence in American politics. The few


people that did mention their vote as a source of some
influence said that that wasnt even worth mentioning, and that since they didnt vote, what did it matter anyway? Only one person said that voting WAS power, stating that there was a huge difference between
showing up at the polls and just pushing a button, and
actually knowing who youre voting for, and why youre
voting for them

When asked how well informed people were when it

came to elections everyone agreed that they were in


the dark. The two people that did say they TRIED to be
informed said that time and information availability
got in the way of that.

All but those same two people said that they had

no motivation to vote. Saying there was no point, and


that it was bullcrap.

As the interviews continued there

4.3 An Unexpected Result

were two similarities that stood


out. First: everyone agreed that rich

white men, and congressmen, had the

fairly expected. If someone doesnt

majority of the power when it came to

consider themselves powerful or knowl-

politics, a surprising, but totally

edgeable when it comes to politics,

factual, deduction. Even two 15 year

it stands to reason that they would

old girls were aware of this. Second:

not vote. However, what was unexpect-

When asked what they would do differ-

ed was the level of patriotism claimed

ently, if they felt they could change

even by the disengaged citizens who

things, everyone who DIDNT vote,

so strongly opposed everything the

said they would. They said they would

government did. Upon further prodding

care, get involved, and spread the

it was revealed that this deep rooted

word. Its incredible that so large

patriotism existed apart from the cur-

a change could happen any second, if

rent state of government. It was tied

people would only realize that their

directly to the original idealism of

vote is more powerful than they be-

American government. These people con-

lieve it to be.

sidered themselves proud to be ameri-

Nearly every answer recieved was

can, but not because of anything anyone had done for the last century.

4.4 Causes and Conclusion


It would seem that the causes are many, but the most prominent ones are

quite simple: People in the salt lake area feel that their vote means nothing,
and achieves nothing. Why vote if it wont change anything? Why vote if your
choices are all bad? Time, money, work, class, and many many more were listed.
But the overall consesus is this: In the governments current state, there is
nothing to really drive anyone at all to give their opinion. And so, more and
more people stay home every year, shaking their heads at the direction a once
proud nation has taken.

This research may be only in its primary stages, but it is clear that

political disengagement is a growing cultural norm in and around Salt Lake


City. The majority of the population, and especially those belonging to Generation Y, have made conscious decisions to reject the ballot, changing this
disengagement problem into something much bigger. It is not simply a mindset.
Its a political position.

Sources:
will americans set a new record for political apathy in 2014? Bill Moyers.
July 23, 2014. Web. 10 Feb, 2015.
disengagement in decline ccncce. nd. Web. 10 feb, 2015.
Utah had the 3rd Lowest Voter Turnout Among the States sltrib. Nov 27,
2014. Web. 22 Feb, 2015
Low Voter Turnout cqpress. Oct 20, 2000. Web. 10 Feb, 2015

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