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Evanson: The lost art of Democracy

BY KEITH EVANSON | OCTOBER 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Sen. Tom Harkin’s retirement from the U.S. Senate has generated quite the whirlwind of political fervor between the candidates nominated from the two major political parties. It is to be expected, though; Harkin has served in the position since “Like a Virgin,” by Madonna was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Because incumbents in Congress are at such an advantage to keep their position over several terms, as Harkin had done and how Sen. Chuck Grassley has done for 33 years, this makes this race in Iowa one which will likely affect the state for decades.

The Senate race in Iowa is in a dead heat. The survey research team at Loras College released a poll on Tuesday that showed Democratic candidate Bruce Braley has a backing of 45 percent of likely voters in comparison with 44 percent for Republican candidate Joni Ernst. In a different survey released on Sunday by the NBC News/Marist Poll, it showed the polls going the opposite direction, with Ernst having 49 percent of the votes and Braley having 46 percent.

It probably won’t surprise you when I tell you that a very small percentage of these votes will come from people under the age of 30. There are a variety of factors that come into play when explaining why young people don’t vote. They are more likely to be moving around a lot, barring them from voting in their home state. Maybe they haven’t developed the habit of voting yet or don’t feel they are knowledgeable enough to vote. Older generations might suggest that “kids these days” just don’t care.

The older generation might be right. But, I don’t think it’s the fault of young people for being politically apathetic. Between the low likelihood of influencing the political process at large and lost faith that citizens believe the government is working the way that it should, why would they want to?
The American National Studies Survey poll (which surveys thousands of people each election cycle) shows that in 2008, approximately one in four people trusted the government, the lowest amount of trust since the poll was started in 1958.  Even lower is the Gallup survey released last year, which shows that a mere 9 percent of the public trusts the government, the lowest in recorded history.

This is troublesome for the future of democracy. A reason older voters vote more than young people is largely due to having developed the habit of voting over the course of several election cycles. My fear is that because of increased distrust and apathy, young people won’t develop these habits.

When taking an objective look at political advertisements for the Senate race here in Iowa, it appears they are just another part of the problem. Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan website developed by the University of Pennsylvania, took a look at the advertisements and established that many claims made are false.

In an ad sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, it claimed that Ernst would privatize Social Security. But there is no evidence for this. Ernst has not publicly endorsed privatizing Social Security.

On the opposition, an ad sponsored by the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee claimed that Braley voted to raise taxes for every single Iowa taxpayer. This isn’t true. This claim was made concerning Braley’s vote in 2010 when he voted against the Bush tax cuts. Braley’s vote was to raise taxes for the top 1 percent, not the hyperbolic claim of raising taxes for “every single Iowa taxpayer.”

Deceptive ads like these are part of the problem. In the end, one of the two aforementioned candidates will serve as a U.S. senator for the next six years. The choice is yours to make in the voting booth, or if you are stricken with indifference and distrust, I guess the choice is someone else’s.


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