Editorial: Not all WB voters deeply passionate about politics
Op-Ed · November 23, 2012

This city could, with effort, change its political leaning.

Since 2004, our city, like others, voted in five national elections, three involving presidential races. We can look back and see the outcomes, but the fluctuating turnout figures makes us wonder about the depth of voters’ political convictions.

This is not to judge right or wrong. We’re not saying every voter ought to care as deeply as a candidate or political pundit. We do want to encourage everyone to vote — it strikes us that there is a large percentage of people who simply do not make an effort to go to the polls, even in a presidential race.

However, we raise the question more as an observation. West Branch is known as a “Democratic” city in that those who associate themselves with the Democratic Party outnumber those who associate themselves with the Republican Party. There are plenty of people who cross party lines to vote for candidates, but at the moment we are not considering how they voted, but rather if they voted at all.

In 2004, when George W. Bush ran against John Kerry, 45 percent of West Branch-area voters showed up at the polls, compared to 72 percent in the entire county (Tipton is strongly conservative). Bush was running for his second term; perhaps many local Democrats saw Bush as a likely winner and did not bother to vote.

In 2006, 44 percent of West Branch voters turned out for the mid-term election, compared to 54 percent countywide.

Then, in 2008, when Barack Obama ran against John McCain, voting skyrocketed to 76 percent for Gower and Springdale townships, edging out the 75 percent turnout in the county.

In 2010, voters dropped off again, with 56 percent showing up both here and countywide.

For the 2012 presidential race, West Branch went from one voting precinct to two: Gower/Springdale maintained its outer borders, but West Branch 1 was carved out of the middle. West Branch 1 turned out about 78.6 percent of its voters and Gower/Springdale turned out 76 percent. Combined, it works out to just over 76 percent voter turnout, compared to about 77.5 percent for the rest of the county.

The numbers suggest that either Obama or the fact that Bush could not run a third time — that there had to be a new president — or both created a greater interest.

What is even more interesting is that voter turnout was 10 to 11 percent higher in the 2010 midterm than the 2004 presidential race and the 2006 mid-term.

Even though Obama was not, technically, on the ballot, perhaps him being in the Oval Office generated more interest in politics or government leadership. In Iowa that year, the Supreme Court/gay marriage issue was of high controversy and a former Republican governor, Terry Branstad, stepped up to run against the incumbent, Demcorat Chet Culver.

Still, the volume of people not voting, despite eligibility, is significant in all five of these elections, from 24 to 55 percent in our two townships. From one in four to one in two people did not vote, for anything at all.

Now let’s consider how they voted.

In the recent election, 1,188 people — 62.3 percent — here turned out to vote for Obama, while 693 — 36.4 percent — voted for Mitt Romney.

However, 601 registered voters — 24 percent — did not vote. Had they all voted Republican, they could have outnumbered the Democrats by more than 100 votes. Had they all voted Democratic, the Republicans would have lost by nearly 3 to 1.

So what we can state with certainty?

First off, we know that people with the most interest in politics are those most likely to vote in every election. They are the core voters, even if some do not affiliate with a particular party.

Also, there are quite a few people who may not be rabid about arguing candidates and issues on Facebook or around the water cooler, or rushing to their mailboxes each day to consume every word of another dozen campaign mailers. That means that if a political party could get them interested in casting a vote, that party may have a greater chance influencing how they vote.

Realistically, we find it unlikely that all non-voters will soon become voters.

But by adding the 24 percent of non-voters to the nearly 30 percent of occasional voters, we see that more than half of West Branch-area voters do not possess deep convictions about politics.

It means West Branch, as “Democratic” as it may seem, could become even more so, or it could become nearly an even split between the two parties.

The opportunity is there. The outcome depends on which party is willing to put forth the effort.

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