The New York Times published an article last week that quickly gained traction on social media titled “Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees.” On the heels of the DNC email leak, the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, and general wildfire about the corruption of Hillary Clinton, the headline would suggest proof of the conspiracy theory often gnawed on by the down and out that American democracy is only an agent of disenfranchisement and oppression. But if you just bothered to click on the link, you’d soon realize that the NYT piece is in no way a smoking gun, but rather proof that our votes do matter, and the power really is in the hands of the people.
Facebook’s continued quest to dominate both information-sharing and interconnectivity has unfortunately made the social media platform the main way many people get their information. Combine that with the internet not having a fact checker, its existence in general creating a craving for snackable news, and the fact that a surprising majority of people cannot pick out a reliable source from a propaganda clickbait site, and you’ve got a population that is over inundated with misinformation. And then there’s the cherry on top of the clusterfuck sundae, the fact that a lot of people share without reading in our current culture of self righteous grandstanding from behind a screen.
All of the above culminated in the perfect storm for Bernie supporters to embarrass themselves in seeking to prove their cries of corruption. The NYT piece wasn’t even an article, so much as an animated, interactive infograph, digestible in about two minutes. With the help of 324 squares, each representing one million Americans, the piece scrolls through voter turnout in the primaries. Their breakdown explained: 103 million are children, felons and non-citizens ineligible to vote; 88 million people do not vote at all; 73 million did not vote in the primaries, but will vote in the general; of the remaining 60 million who voted, half voted for other candidates. That turns in to only 14% of eligible voters, and 9% of the whole country having actually voted for Trump or Clinton.
One could misconstrue the headline to mean that in some grand act of voter disenfranchisement and blatant defilement of the American democratic process, only 9% of people voted for Trump and Clinton, but they got the nomination anyways. For that statement to be true, everyone, including children, felons and non-citizens, would have to have voted. What the article reveals instead is that because a grand majority of the country did not vote in the primaries, a small number of voters won out. It is not a statement against some big rigged system, it’s chart that reveals how dangerous apathy is.
There is a bit of guesswork and estimation involved in configuring the infograph, with some figures based on averages and 2012 voter turn out, so that 9% could be off by a few percent. But even if that figure is really 15%, or 5%, it still conveys the same sentiment: when you don’t vote, you give more power to the people who do. You know what group of people votes? Republicans. They may be flawed when it comes to human rights, and guns, and economics, and most things in my opinion, but they sure as hell vote to continue to have the right to keep those things flawed. Republicans do not subscribe to the same kind of hocus-pocus that liberals often resort to in hard times.
I do think that among the great deal of important, imperative change our country needs to really bring us into the 21st century, in step with the rest of the progressed western world, and back to our long-obsessed over and fabled status as the best, is voter reform. The Electoral College is antiquated. And like Bernie supporters, I do think the whole delegate system of the primaries is counter intuitive. But that wasn’t the point of the NYT piece. It instead was a wonderful example of how dangerous it is to take the stubborn, entitled stance of not voting in November, or voting for a third party. The chart shows how easy it is for a dedicated minority to win out when an apathetic majority sits out. It’s a stupid gamble, and a lot of people placing those bets shared an article to prove it.