There may be no more self-abasing profession than politics.
Consider: You visit the grocery store. When you cross the parking lot, you won’t run a gauntlet of critics from a rival supermarket bad-mouthing the produce section, demeaning the selection of dog food and questioning the sell-by date on the ground chuck.
Or you visit the dentist. There’s no barrage of radio and TV ads, produced by a competitor, trashing your dentist's education and background, impugning the sanitation of his equipment or wondering why he charges such an exorbitant price for a routine checkup.
And yet ridicule, contempt and disparagement are not just the common language of political campaigns, they’re pretty much the only words spoken these days when Democratic candidates discuss their Republican opponents, and vice versa.
Little wonder people are so disgusted with politics and politicians. Would you visit a dentist if there were even the slightest doubt about properly sterilized equipment?
So there was a certain what-did-you-expect resignation accompanying a report this week from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, which showed Americans are staying away from the polls this election season in droves.
Specifically, of the nearly 123 million voters who were eligible to cast ballots in 25 statewide primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, only 18 million did so.
That’s a 14.8% turnout.
If precedent holds, the study says the nation will record the lowest midterm primary turnout in its history; already more than half the states holding primary elections this year have had record-low turnouts, including California. Only three — West Virginia, Nebraska and North Carolina — had higher numbers in 2014 than the midterm election four years ago.
Why does that matter? “It presents a danger to our society insofar as democracy does thrive on the consent and involvement of the governed,” said Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan election research center and a decades-long student of voter behavior. “Leadership needs some form of mandate.”
The study says a major factor in the low turnout is a sense of futility: congressional districts consciously drawn to favor one party or the other, which leave many voters wondering why they should bother participating when the outcome is preordained.
Interestingly, the report found that making it easier to vote did nothing to boost turnout when voters felt there was no point to an election. “No-excuse mail voting invites people to leave the ballot on the kitchen table,” Gans said.
There are plenty of reasons — personal as well as political — that people choose not to vote, and no single solution for boosting turnout. Some even say that low rates of voter participation are not such a bad thing, as many who opt out are either apathetic, uninformed or both.
One solution Gans suggests, a national biometric identification that would eliminate the need for voter rolls — just show up and if your body matches the information on a government-issued card, you’d be free to cast a ballot — seems improbable in this post-Edward Snowden age of privacy concerns.
But there is another place for interested parties to start.
Politicians, heal thyself.
Follow @markzbarabak for more analysis of national & California politics