Steadily lower voter turnout is the sad fact in all democracies

“The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 years!”

That was the headline in New York Times’ main editorial today, as the paper lamented the fact that only 36.3 percent of the American voters bothered to vote in the midterm election on November 4.

In no state did the voter turnout exceed 60 percent, with Maine coming closest at 59.3 percent, followed by Wisconsin 56.9, Alaska 55.3, Colorado, 53, Oregon 52, Minnesota 51.3, and Iowa 50.6 percent.

Indiana had the lowest turnout with only 28 percent, with New York, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all also under 30 percent.

“Lower voter turnout since World War II is a trend in all democracies,” says Sören Holmberg, election expert and political science professor at the University in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It seems that democratic decision making no longer is as important for people as it used to be in our globalized world.”

Voter turnout in countries like Sweden, 83.3 percent in the parliamentary election in September this year, is still much higher than in the United States, but turnout in Sweden used to be even higher, over 90 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmberg points to a steadily lower voter turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, only an average of 42.5 percent earlier this year, to England where turnout for parliamentary elections has gone down from over 80 percent after World War II to slightly over 60 percent, to France also from around 80 percent after the war to below 60 percent today.

Even in Australia and Belgium, where voting is obligatory, has voter turnout decreased, although turnout is still around 90 percent.

The United States has special problems, like gerrymandering. Uncompetitive districts lowers voter turnout, and incumbents are re-elected at an average rate of over 90 percent, says Holmberg.

Lower voter turnout favors the Republicans. So instead of making voting as easy as possible for everyone, as I think should be the goal of every democracy, the Republicans have continued to try to make it more difficult. That is an especially sad fact in the American democracy.

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“Solidarity” behind the success of the Nordic model

Here is a good read about the economies in Sweden and the countries in northern Europe, where, “befuddling Americans, economic growth is robust, and unemployment is lower than in most other European countries.”

So writes Stockholm-based businessman Daniel Sachs under the headline “The Nordic Model’s Economic Appeal” in the latest issue of “The Globalist.”

“The Nordic model leads to one great benefit: it promotes adaptability and openness to change…Openness to change is a core aspect of the competitiveness of the Nordic economies.”

Sachs, who was educated in Sweden and at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that he believes in “incentives” but then uses a word seldom, if ever, used in the U.S. debate — “solidarity.”

“What the Nordic experience shows is that ‘individual’ incentives can be soundly balanced by solidarity on a ‘societal’ level. Solidarity makes good economic sense. Solidarity — that is, risk-sharing — is a key ingredient in being open to change…These aspects of the Nordic model — the relationship between state and individual, generous social protection, freedom of the individual and high levels of trust — all help foster risk-taking and openness to change.”

In turn, he ends, this has led to high levels of trust, fairness and transparency, low transaction costs and low corruption – all reasons why he as a businessman likes the Nordic model.

Anything to learn here?

Oh, those Danes…still the most content

Oh, those Danes…they continue to be the most satisfied with their lives in the whole world, according to the recent worldwide Gallup survey on quality of life in 146 countries. Denmark has had the top spot since 2009.

On average, Gallup asked 1,000 people in each country and divided the responses into three categories, “thriving,” “struggling,” and “suffering.”

Seventy-four percent of the Danes said they “thrived,” according to Gallup, followed by Canada and the Netherlands with 66 percent, and Sweden and Israel with 65 percent. Of the world’s largest countries, the United States landed on 12th place with 56 percent sayng that they thrived, while the numbers for Russia and China were only 22 and 18 percent, respectively.

In 87 countries, less than one quarter of the population said they were satisfied, with Cambodia in last place with 2 percent. In Europe, only 5 percent of the Bulgarians said they thrived. Numbers were also low in Italy (23 percent), Greece (16 percent), and Portugal (14 percent).

The biggest positive change since 2010 has taken place in Ghana, where those answering that they now thrived had increased by 19 percent, while the largest negative change occurred in El Salvador, minus 22 percent.

No quick solution like in Canada

Sometimes, perhaps even often, Europeans bundle America and Canada together – two big North American countries – and judge the two all the same. Undoubtedly, there are many similarities between the two, and Canada, as little brother, is both strongly tied to and deeply influenced by the United States.

But yesterday, when I watched Canadian Broadcasting via C-Span, I was reminded in a powerful way how different America and Canada are, and how European Canada is.

The Canadian Parliament was in session, and the debate was fierce, in both English and French, ending with a vote of no confidence, by 156 to 145. The Conservative government fell. The parties had been unable to agree on the budget, even if the formal vote was one of the government’s “contempt” for Parliament.

Such a vote had never happened before in Canadian history. The decision came quickly. The result was clear. Already on Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper handed in his resignation and Parliament was dissolved. New elections will take place on May 2, and the voters will decide.

Watching all this, the Canadian/European parliamentary system looked pretty attractive from my perspective here in Washington with its messy political situation that never quite seems to get solved.  This country does not even have a budget for
this fiscal year, which is already six months old. And the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts on October 1 and which President Obama already has presented to Congress, has not yet been discussed at all.

In today’s troubled economic situation with its high debt and huge budget deficit, big and broad action is required. For that, political courage is needed in order to deal with the large issues, like defense, Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and, maybe, new  taxes. Until now no one, including Obama, has displayed that political courage.

Instead we get to experience small and temporary compromises on minor budget cuts, and, by now, six temporary increases of the debt ceiling – the last to keep the government running until April 8. And then?

Negotiations go on between the White House and Congress behind closed doors, but no one seems to want to show his cards, and it all drags on in a process that is draining for all, not the least on the patience of the voters, who show ever less confidence for Washington. But, with a Democratic President and a Congress where Democrats control the Senate and
Republicans control the House of Representatives, there is little hope for a quick and clear solution.

43 percent more Hispanics and Asians in America

The Hispanic and Asian populations grew the fastest of all ethnic groups in America, both with 43 percent, between 2000 and 2010. The country’s population, now 308 million people, did not increase as rapidly as before – only in the 1930s was the growth rate lower than now, according to the new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau made public on Thursday.

The white population is still the country’s largest, but its growth is the slowest. Hispanics now amount to 50.5 million, or 16 percent of America’s population, making them the country’s largest minority group, well ahead of the African-Americans,  who are 14 percent of the total population, or 42 million people.

Only the Asian population grew as fast as the Hispanics, from 10 million to 14.7 million, also 43 percent.

The white population declined relative to the other ethnic groups and now stands at 231 million, or two thirds of the total population. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population in Texas became a  minority group, just as it already had become
in California, New Mexico and Hawaii, plus in Washington, DC.

Of the country’s geographic regions southern and western United States grew the fastest, or with 84 percent, with the residents of Nevada increasing the most, or by 35 percent, followed by Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Texas. One state, Michigan, lost population.

The populations of the ten largest cities in the country all increased, except Chicago, which is still the third largest city.  Largest are New York and Los Angeles, where one in ten Americans reside, with Houston, now with over two million inhabitants, in fourth place.