HOUSTON – There is a great story in America told every four years of battling presidential hopefuls jockeying for momentum among throngs of voters. The drama of politics is real, but the media narrative fails to truly capture the process voters go through before they reach the ballot box.
That’s because – in the search for voters across this vast country – political journalists often overlook the Americans who choose to simply abstain from the whole affair. The truth of the matter is that most Americans do not vote: Nearly two-thirds don’t bother to show up for the primaries and caucuses in party nominating contests.
Elections do not affect shiftwork America, where the shops and cafes must stay open for business to eke out profits, and many in their service cannot afford to leave work to reach polls. Outside Iowa and New Hampshire, streets are largely barren of star-spangled campaign signs.
Traveling across the country throughout February, The Jerusalem Post engaged with at least as many Americans opting out of the process as it did those who are fully engaged.
Nevertheless, Super Tuesday – as March 1 is colloquially known – saw record turnout here in Texas, where more than 827,000 people cast early ballots and millions more passed through voting booths throughout the day. The state is crucial to any candidate: 155 delegates are allocated on the Republican side to their party’s convention, with 222 on the Democratic side. And with delegates assigned proportionately, every vote really does matter.
One waiter at the White Oak restaurant in Houston’s famed Galleria Mall voted just after his shift at 2 p.m. and before picking up his daughter from school.
“It’s our duty to go vote,” said Eduardo, a resident of Hiram Clarke. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Eduardo knows the time has come to vote not just by marking his calendar or by watching election coverage dominating the news.
“On voting days, the traffic doubles,” he said. “And it’s already pretty bad.”
But a waitress in Union Station in Denver, Colorado, couldn’t take the time to vote for her preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders.
Her state’s caucuses, fixed at a specific window of time in the afternoon, conflict with her shift – a job she’s holding to pay off college debt, the very motivation behind her support for the Vermont senator.
On the outskirts of Denver, an Uber driver named Theresa explained her decision not to vote.
“I try to avoid all of that,” she said. “My family is divided politically, so it’s just easier for me to stay neutral.” Theresa, a single mother and a victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband, has plenty of other concerns weighing on her mind.
And on South Beach in Miami, Florida, a group of students visiting from Connecticut could not appear less interested in the consequences of the election to come.
Asked whether any of them would be voting, one quipped “Trump,” with a laugh, before moving on.
The disengaged run across the socioeconomic spectrum, as well as across age, race, religion and state lines. They are evangelical Christians, Wall Street bankers, waiters and taxi drivers.
Jewish Americans are among the country’s most reliably active voting groups.
Roughly 80 percent of eligible Jewish voters turn out in election years, compared to 55%-65% of the total population in recent general elections.
But in this election cycle, a surge in turnout on the Republican side appears motivated by the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, media personality and real estate tycoon, who has upended his party with an unconventional campaign and excited a group of supporters no one has succinctly defined.
Reflecting the disaffected and disengaged, his supporters run across demographics – and many say they are voting with newfound excitement, finally having found a candidate who tells it like it is.
And yet, most pollsters agree that, in order to predict turnout with precision, they must define “likely voters” as those who have reliably showed up in the past.
They maintain that Trump – despite all the unique characteristics of his campaign – has not yet defied this critical metric.
Twelve states held primaries and caucuses on Tuesday, ending a phase of the campaign reliant on grassroots networks and marking a stage of the race tailor-made for the reality television star: A nationwide sprint for delegates, assigned on a winnertake- all basis by states reached best through massive media buys.
Republicans hold their convention on July 18 in Cleveland, Ohio, before the Democratic convention on July 25 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.