Back on October 17th, the Washington Post ran an article with this sobering title: Despite rampant voter enthusiasm, the reality: many don’t plan to vote in November. Some excerpts:
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Interest in the midterm elections is at a fever pitch in much of the country, with both Democrats and Republicans far more passionate than they’ve been in more than a decade.
Could this be the year that Tennessee’s Montgomery County shows up to vote?
Located northwest of Nashville along the Kentucky border, this county often has one of the lowest voting rates in the state — in a state that often has one of the lowest rates in the country, and in a country that has one of the lowest rates in the world, trailing most developed nations.
During the divisive 2016 presidential election, Montgomery County registered its lowest turnout in the past six presidential elections. Of residents who were old enough to vote, just 42 percent actually did, according to a Washington Post analysis. Meanwhile, the national rate was 61 percent and statewide was 51 percent, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Historically, those numbers fall in midterm elections…
…The reasons for not voting may vary by location but feature similar strains of disillusionment and skepticism. Tennessee has harsher voting restrictions in place than states with higher turnout rates, but few people cite those as reasons for not voting.
Montgomery County residents offered a list of reasons: The state mostly has been controlled by Republicans for years, so many right-leaning nonvoters say their chosen candidate doesn’t need their support to win and left-leaners say their candidate will never win. Both sides ask the same question: Why bother?
Others said they don’t care about politics — often citing its nastiness — and don’t want to pick a side. And still others said they just can’t get excited about the candidates on the ballot.
“I just think that it’s a waste of my time,” said Leo Meeks, 39, a lifelong Clarksvillian who majored in political science in college but hasn’t voted in at least eight years. Even if he did vote, he said, the winner is often determined by gerrymandered districts or the electoral college, not voters. “Because whoever’s going to get into office is not going to be influenced based on what my goals are or what my needs are or what the public’s needs,” he said. “It’s going to be driven by capitalism, by big companies. . . . Money controls.”
This is just one article, from one news source, focused on the 2018 midterms… but even the quickest, most superficial Google search turns up other similar coverage, spanning the New York Times, NPR, Vox, Live Science, CNN and myriad others. Despite consequential national stakes, despite appeals to civic duty, American voter turnout remains stubbornly low. This has engendered a veritable cottage industry of analysis, which pops up every two years much like those fireworks stands that materialize in parking lots as the Fourth of July draws near. There’s a lot of attention to demographics: state-by-state and district by district; to Democratic turnout versus Republican turnout; elderly vs. the young; to variations in turnout related to ethnicity, etc. The search for root causes is unrelenting: barriers to voter registration, and how these target the poor, or ethnic minorities; gerrymandering the nation into largely safe Congressional districts, shifting the real battles from the elections per se to the party primaries; (every four years), idiosyncrasies in the electoral-college system that allow presidential candidates to win with a minority of votes. Remote polling places, long lines, conflicts between voting and job and family priorities all play a role. The landscape is rife with proposed policy fixes: making voting mandatory; shift in Election Day from Tuesday to a weekend, following a pattern prevailing across much of the world; districting commissions to reduce gerrymandering; same-day registrations; fewer restrictions on absentee voting; and countless others as well as variations on these themes.
One way or another, all these schemes confront what seems to be a human bias along the lines of “my vote doesn’t matter.”
Here’s where meteorologists ought to have an edge. We know that in chaotic systems like the Earth’s atmosphere, small changes in conditions at any moment or place can exert a big difference later on and downstream. Throughout our careers, we’ve confronted the reality that in weather prediction, everything matters, down to the smallest details – in wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity; the particulars in solar and infrared radiation balance; interaction with physical, chemical, and biological properties of the Earth’s surface, especially the water. Even down to:
Armed with that awareness, imbued with that knowledge, nothing deters us from the polls, right? We know our vote matters and we act accordingly. We show up and are counted.
Part of the reason for the question is that the meteorological demographic is not one that the pollsters examine. I don’t know of a single survey that breaks out a comparison between meteorologists and the general population. So the encouragement here is not evidence-based so much as it’s a hunch. Or perhaps only a hope.
Two concluding thoughts.
Vote like a meteorologist. You and I should think like meteorologists when it comes to deciding whether to vote, but it shouldn’t stop there. We should think like meteorologists when it comes to how (or for whom or what) to vote. We don’t base weather predictions on wishful thinking. We’re reality-based. Similarly, we don’t base weather predictions on the wind or pressure field alone, or what happened yesterday or a year ago. We approach prediction comprehensively, balancing all factors according to nature’s rules.
In the same way, we shouldn’t pick a candidate for broad responsibilities based on a single issue. Immigration. Health care. Jobs. Judicial appointments. Foreign policy. Tariffs. Education. Innovation. Environment. Basic human values – honesty, fairness, integrity, etc. All these, and more, matter! And evidence and facts matter more than rhetoric – especially rhetoric that appeals to fear, or anger, or hate, or that is based on falsehoods.
We approach our complex meteorological science in a disciplined way. We ought to be commensurately measured and structured with our political choices. They make not make a difference with respect to how our science and technologies fare over the next two years, but they will make a difference in the way our science benefits the larger society over that period.
Vote for a meteorologist. Finally, vote for a meteorologist. We may not know how our political participation stacks up against other communities and sectors in our society. But we do have voting underway now for the volunteer leadership of the American Meteorological Society – our next president and next group of Councilors. The deadline to Vote is November 7, 2018. Not sure of the exact statistics on the percentage of our members who vote; let’s just say based on figures from previous years that there’s always room for improvement.
Did I mention we should vote?