Given last year’s poor election turnout, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has begun considering the idea of using cash prizes to increase voter participation. While people are definitely motivated by money, it still won’t solve the apathy people feel towards politics.
According to Pew Research, we are more divided now than we’ve ever been in the last two decades. People are much less likely to tolerate other people’s beliefs outside their political spectrum, so it’s understandable why most people would rather simply recuse themselves from the conversation than risk losing a friend. It’s socially advantageous to be apolitical.
The more people don’t care about politics, the more power special interest groups like the Koch brothers have to influence the government. Eventually, when the public inevitably becomes upset with the fact that their interests aren’t being met, the partisanship kicks into full gear and both sides start to blame each other for the exact scenario they were both profiting off of just a minute earlier. It’s a vicious circle designed to keep us either angry at each other or sedated by apathy.
According to another study done by both Princeton and Northwestern Universities, when they compared the preferences of average Americans and the preferences of affluent Americans along with special interest groups, they found out U.S. policy tended to highly favor the rich and powerful. Meaning it doesn’t matter which way you vote—if you aren’t paying for their reelection campaign, chances are they won’t care about you want.
“These business groups are far more numerous and active; they spend much more money; and they tend to get their way”, wrote Mark Gilens, political scientist and professor at Princeton University.
However, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, not only is this not corruption, but it’s how the system is supposed to work.
“In a series of cases over the past 40 years, we have spelled out how to draw the constitutional line between the permissible goal of avoiding corruption in the political process and the impermissible desire simply to limit political speech,” Roberts wrote. “We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.”
What he doesn’t mention is where that leaves the rest of us who don’t have that much money? Does that mean we don’t have as much free speech than our richer counterparts?
In 2012, 90 percent of congressional incumbents were reelected despite the fact that that same year, as a whole, they had an approval rating of 10 percent. They weren’t reelected because of how well they did their job, they just found the perfect balance of pandering to the public while groveling to the people actually that pay them.
If you’re a career politician, your main goal is to keep your job and get reelected. Politicians aren’t incentivized to fix real problems, like global warming; they want quick fixes. The more things they fixed, or at least provided some guise that they’ve been “fixed,” the more ammunition they have for the next election and it’s all just lip service. If they actually did their job representing the people who elected them instead of treating them like cattle, they wouldn’t have such a low approval rating.
It is not all bad. A whole new generation of voters coming of age will, for the first time, outnumber the baby boomers and those numbers are growing. More than any generation before them, 50 percent of millennials identify as political independents. They’re far less trusting of the traditional parties that, up till now, have dominated the political spectrum. Also, they are entering into a world much different than their predecessors: right out the gate they’ve been saddled with an unprecedented amount of student debt and, if that wasn’t enough, they also face far fewer employment opportunities to pay that debt. They not only have the means, but also the motivation to change the system, they just don’t know it yet.
You can’t fix voter apathy by throwing money at it. That won’t solve this spiritual epidemic. If you want more people to vote, convince them that their vote is worth something. Convince them that voting isn’t just some formality. A higher voter turnout doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t motivated by a sense social responsibility. Otherwise you’re giving the people that don’t care about the system a voice in how that system is run. What the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has proposed is a horrible idea and the only things it’ll fix are the symptoms, not the disease.