Two-Thirds of Eligible Voters Did Not Vote
Voter turnout for the 2014 U.S. mid-term elections was about 36.4 percent, meaning almost two-thirds of voters did not vote. It is estimated that only 13 per cent of voters were under 30. About 40 per cent of non-voters are estimated to be African American or Latino.
In the large majority of races, this means that the candidate who won not only did not win a majority of eligible voters, they won with less than 25 per cent of the vote. In places like New York, it was more like 15 per cent or even less. It can hardly be considered an election representative of the population in each state.
The turnout was lower than the 2010 midterms in all but twelve states. This despite voters being inundated with a record almost $4 billion in campaign ads and materials of various kinds. Some states, like California, lost more then 10 percent in voter participation. (The comparison is made to midterm, non-presidential years as there is always greater participation when the president is being elected.)
Across the country voters expressed their anger with all the negative ads, with government as a whole and with the lack of candidates they wanted to vote for by not voting. Big states like New York and Texas had among the lowest voter turnout with 29.5 per cent and 28.5 per cent respectively. Five other states had between 28-30 per cent: Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. Many other states had 37 per cent or less, including Georgia — 34.1 per cent; New Jersey — 30.4 per cent; Ohio — 36.2 per cent; Pennsylvania — 36.1 per cent; South Carolina — 34.9 per cent; and Virginia — 36.7 per cent. Even states that were branded as ones with “contested” races were low. North Carolina, where record millions of dollars were spent, had only 40.7 per cent voter turnout. Florida, also with record spending, had 43.1 per cent. Similarly Illinois had 39.5 per cent voter turnout, Michigan 42.7 per cent, and Kansas 42.8 per cent. Only six states had more than 50 per cent: Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Money Spent in the Elections
A record almost $4 billion was spent on the 2014 federal mid-term Congressional House and Senate races which included the governors’ races in 36 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas. Florida’s governor’s race topped $104 million, Illinois’ a record $100 million and Texas $90 million, much of it on negative ads. These funds do not include the tens of millions spent 60 days prior to the election by outside groups not required to report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Total spending by candidates themselves is reported to be about $1.66 billion in all, down from the $1.79 billion they spent in 2010. Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and other political groups — commonly forces that do not even live in the state or district — are reported to have spent close to $1 billion, with about 80 percent of it on negative ads. Six of every 10 dollars in reported spending by outside groups came from Super PACs.
An additional $100 million and more was spent on “issue ads” that do not name a candidate. These are often done by astroturf groups, i.e., fake “grassroots” non-profits posing as advocates for a given cause but actually campaigning for particular private monopoly interests and the candidates they back, conservative and liberal alike.
In most races spending by forces other than the candidate, such as Super PACs, astroturf groups and party committees, far exceeds that of the candidate. In many races this spending amounts to double or more than that of the candidate. This is an indication that candidate spending caps does not solve the problem of massive amounts of campaign spending and negative ads.
These outside spenders are also indicative of the change in the role of the parties. The state-level parties, which used to be the bulwark of the Democrats and Republicans, play almost no role. And while the Democratic and Republic National Committees still function, they have been surpassed by the role of Super PACs and other outside spenders. This is evident in spending by both, which is down in 2014 compared to 2010. Of the almost $4 billion the Democratic National Committee was predicted to spend about $148 million, a decline from the $176.5 million it spent in 2010 (the last midterm, non-presidential election). The Republican National Committee was predicted to spend about $164.9 million, down from the $185 million it spent in 2010.
Expected presidential candidate for 2016 Hillary Clinton did 45 events in 54 days coming into Election Day, in part to build up her machinery. Current head of the Senate, Harry Reid, who is not up for election, has the “Senate Majority PAC,” which he controls. It was among the top five groups buying ads in the last two weeks of the election. The astroturf non-profit Crossroads GPS and the Super PAC American Crossroads were also among the top five. Both are machinery for Karl Rove and the Carlyle Group (a “global asset management firm”) interests that backed the Bush presidencies. The Koch brothers, representing oil interests, have a new Super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund. They have also donated more than $196 million in the last several years to dozens of astroturf advocacy organizations that intervene in elections, commonly with negative “issue” ads.