In every statewide election this year, Minnesota’s major political parties will hold precinct caucuses to directly engage citizens in the political process. Constituents may become delegates or offer resolutions that may contribute to an official party platform.
I attended my local precinct caucus last week. I watched a caucus informational video showing a full room of participants. I heard stories of the 2008 precinct caucuses, when lines of local residents and would-be delegates extended for blocks from caucus buildings.
My experience, however, was far from these expectations.
The only other person at my precinct caucus was the one leading the meeting.
One could say this dismal turnout had its benefits. I automatically became a delegate due to a lack of competition.
But the empty room was disconcerting. I am appalled that citizens, who had the opportunity to directly engage in democracy, decided to stay home. While our political system has room for only so many delegates, more constituents could be involved. Local and state elections offer residents the opportunity to have real influence in their area.
Of course, there may be a valid reason for this low turnout. The 2008 precinct caucuses, which had a historic turnout, were at a time when many Americans were anxious to replace President George W. Bush with either the first black or female president (Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, respectively). Turnout during mid-term elections is typically low, but 2008’s enthusiasm is utterly nonexistent today. The prospects of Obama’s message of hope and change continue to motivate some, but many more people are skeptical of change.
Unfortunately, this lack of civil engagement has a toll on our nation.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize recipient and economics professor at Princeton University, depicts an example of this phenomenon. Despite 2008’s turnout, politicians were more concerned about rescuing the “too big to fail” banks than providing job relief. Shortly after the insufficient stimulus package in 2009, our leaders focused on the deficit and austerity policies. The ideas of saving the banks and passing harsh austerity measures, according to Krugman, “corresponded to the interests and prejudices of an economic elite whose political influence had surged along with its wealth.”
If every American showed up to vote, our nation would be different, or so is the hope with democracy. The same can be said about precinct caucuses. If more Americans participated in their local caucuses, it would increase their political awareness, improve diversity among delegates and politicians, and inform political parties about the issues people care about.
While this may be a pipe dream, it’s not hard for many to join in on the political process. For many, it may only take the motivation. Given our recent political history, a disjointed, heavily partisan political atmosphere may have turned people away.
In order to stem the tide of policies that disproportionately benefit the rich, more Americans need to directly engage in the political system to have true political efficacy. Simple steps are possible, such as attending a precinct caucus.