Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Our disaffected electorate is proof that the old model of politics isn’t working

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May10,2024

Back in January, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center published a shocking report about the growing number of Americans who are tuning out from our country’s increasingly toxic political culture. Instead of heeding Pew’s warnings, our always-on political pundits assured the pollsters that voter interest in the 2024 campaign would surge in the spring.

Now, just a week away from May, it’s safe to say the pundits were wrong about voter enthusiasm — and NBC News just released a new poll that proves it.

NBC’s latest national poll records voter interest in the 2024 presidential election slumping to a 20-year low. Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s big rematch may be generating hours of media content and miles of newsprint, but most voters just don’t seem to care.

Voters across the country have learned how to tune out the chaotic mess that is American politics in 2024, as much for their own mental health and happiness as anything else. The disconnect between the people and their government is a gap Democrats will need to bridge if President Biden hopes to secure a second term.

While 2024 marks a depressing low point for voter interest in politics, voter disaffection has been a growing problem since at least 2020, when millions of Americans dropped out of the political process. It’s also no coincidence that declining levels of voter engagement walk together with the rise of Trumpism and the MAGA movement’s especially corrosive and extreme brand of political theater.

Republicans can see the depressing effect of Trump’s extreme rhetoric on their own party, where a quarter of self-identified GOP voters say they will stay home on Election Day if Trump is the Republican nominee. In South Carolina, the number of Republicans who say they would never vote for Trump approaches a third of all registered GOP voters. Those numbers represent a profound belief from voters that their political system no longer represents them. Better, they seem to reason, to keep their hands clean of Trump’s moral decay.

Trump’s alienating effect on voters is a problem for Biden, too, because our nation’s growing political toxicity is turning off just as many left-learning voters as it is people on the right-wing fringe. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted in January revealed a political landscape where millions of previously engaged Americans of all beliefs have walked away from the political process entirely.

On the left, a growing fight over American support for Israel’s war in Gaza has divided not just progressives from centrists but younger Democrats from older ones. Young voters in liberal college towns have traditionally been a Democratic lifeline in must-win swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Now many of those young and engaged voters are threatening to send a message to Biden by staying home in November.

For his part, Biden seems to recognize that those young Democrats aren’t bluffing. His campaign recently rolled out an effort to organize college campuses with new Students for Biden-Harris chapters, and Biden recently highlighted climate issues popular with younger voters at an event in Virginia. Unfortunately, all of Biden’s efforts follow the old model of political engagement — a model that many of the voters he hopes to reach have disavowed and discarded.

To re-engage those voters requires a candidate willing to engage them on their own terms. For Biden, that means wading into the thorny issue of the antiwar protests roiling American campuses and addressing the recent use of police force to arrest hundreds of nonviolent protesters. Biden may not agree with student protesters’ policy goals, but visiting a college campus and debating them directly would send a powerful message that he views their protest as legitimate protected speech.

Democrats won’t reconnect with alienated voters through flashy direct mail campaigns or YouTube ad buys. Inspiring those who have lost faith in our political process requires political leaders to go to where those people are and engage them on their own terms, not through the rigid and tired approaches handed down by Beltway consultants. It means having challenging conversations on the ground instead of mediated through four-minute cable news appearances.

America’s greatest presidents built winning electoral coalitions because they engaged tough political issues directly with the voter groups who were hurting. Moving away from that kind of constructive leadership has driven millions of Americans out of civic life and pushed our politics toward historic partisan extremes. In order to fix it, our elected officials will need to start talking with the American people instead of at them.

Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies. 

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Our disaffected electorate is proof that the old model of politics isn’t working”
  1. Isn’t it concerning that voter disaffection has been on the rise since 2020? What do you think are the key factors contributing to this trend?

  2. As a voter myself, I couldn’t agree more with the article. It’s disheartening to see how disconnected people have become from politics. We really need a change to bridge this gap and re-engage the electorate for a healthier democracy.

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