Occasionally we hear the term “Silent Majority” being discussed by politicians and journalists, but who exactly makes up the Silent Majority? The term Silent Majority is credited to President Nixon defending the Vietnam War and has since been liberally used and misunderstood by the media and politicians on all sides. The Silent Majority acts much like the top 10% income earners of individuals in the country in that it is a constantly changing group of people.
According to research done by Hirschl And Rank, 61% of U.S. households will break into the top 20% income bracket for at least 2 consecutive years, and 39% of U.S. households will break into the top 10% income bracket for at least 2 consecutive years. Just as the top income earners are not a ‘fixed’ group of individuals, polls conducted by Ipsos in 2020 show that 25% of the population never or rarely votes, and 44% of the population who sometimes votes. That leaves only 31% of the population who almost always votes.
The “silent” in Silent Majority refers to how this collective of citizens does not vote. Whether this is for a political office, or any other thing decided using a democratic system, choosing not to vote is choosing to remain silent. The fact that you have an opinion and are verbal about it on social media or to your friends and family do not remove you from this group. In presidential elections and midterm elections between ~30-60% of the population vote according to FairVote. For other voting processes, even less turnout is the norm. This means about 70% of the population, and sometimes significantly more than that, are considered part of the silent majority.
The silent majority exists for reasons as varied as the myriad ideologies that exist in the human condition. This article will focus on only a few of the reasons the Silent Majority continues to be prevalent in our society including; a perceived lack of trust in our institutions, a 2-party system that provides no real choices in many cases, and our politicians and journalists have historically spent more time attacking the other side like playground bullies than actually trying to come up with workable and usable solutions to our problems. These three ideas come up consistently in voting polls on why people do not vote.
Evidence suggests that the faith we have in our institutions fluctuates wildly. Gallup Polls Confidence in Institutions, which rates public confidence across various parts of American society, shows numbers as low as 13% in Congress and as high as 75% in Small Business in 2020. Our institutions of governance, law, religion, science, business, and so many more are mere tools that allow us to order, shape, and explore our ideologies — they have served us well over the course of our history and helped us distill and clarify our thoughts and beliefs. Unfortunately, we need only look to the past to find examples of the many individuals that have held positions of power in these institutions that have not been worthy of the trust placed in them. We often mistake the institutions themselves with the people in those institutions and this naturally leads to distrust from all sides.
Whether you have faith that our institutions can be salvaged from their current forms, believe that they are fine as they are, or think they need to be destroyed and rebuilt anew, the evidence suggests that a large part of the reason so few people vote is a lack of confidence. Tackling this one small aspect of the Silent Majority is an immensely complex situation that many of our greatest minds have grappled with throughout history.
So, what has disillusioned the masses? Some might say the Democrat-Republican governmental structure is responsible. The two-party system causes many American citizens not to vote, with the resulting voting apathy manifesting in many ways. One common case made against the two-party system is that it becomes virtually impossible to remain neutral on any issue; if someone were to “choose a team,” they would be burdened with extra ideologies that they do not necessarily agree with. One of the major proponents of a pluralist, or multi-party, system is that people would be better able to focus on what they truly care about in their ideologies and remain neutral on subjects they don’t have a definitive answer for. Another common complaint against the two-party system is that if either side takes up a cause, the other side seems to take up a diametrically opposed position, and there’s no voice that allows voters to explore alternatives.
A final example of how the two-party system tends to rankle at people’s sensibilities is that they often feel obliged to leave the Silent Majority and “choose a team” as one-issue voters. As we mentioned before, the parties in their current form make it very difficult to remain neutral on less-understood issues. The corollary to that is that many people feel so strongly about one issue, they will ignore all other aspects of the party they choose to vote for, just so that their issue is addressed in the way they see fit. According to many polls, abortion is a perfect example of this. Many people feel so strongly one way or the other on this single issue, that they will ignore every other idea they think their party represents just to have their voice heard regarding abortion. The two-party system worsens this issue by removing any potential mid-platform nuances from the equation.
Many countries have experimented with pluralist systems in the past, and you can view examples of it by studying Germany, India, and many other countries; of particular note is the study of the U.K.’s parliament system over the last 10-20 years. The U.K. has had a two-party structure similar to our own for a long time and in recent years has flirted with becoming a multi-party system. One analysis of these changes in the U.K. has been that as both parties become more extreme and less moderate in their ideologies, the path for a multi-party system opens up and becomes more attractive. At the same time, when party ideologies are more moderate and less extreme, the apparent need for other parties seems to dissipate.
Research from Science Daily shows with new mathematical modeling that political parties are becoming more polarized due to the quest for votes, yet polls from Huffpost/YouGov show that only 10% of American citizens believe that both parties are too extreme. America’s political and journalistic institutions are more representative of a Coliseum-style deathmatch than they are of the logical and passionate spread and analysis of ideologies that they were intended to be. Our political parties are too intent on division. Nothing shows how divided we truly are in this country as the fact that every issue has to be viewed solely through a racial, gender, or sexual orientation lens.
While I believe it’s extremely important to analyze every idea through as many lenses as possible, the focus must shift to our commonalities to work towards a goal. Diversity is divisive by nature and definition, so it is no wonder that our politics constantly appear to be unproductive. Policy-making needs to be unifying to counter that natural divisiveness. Sometimes socialism is called for, sometimes capitalism, sometimes our morals guide us, and other times it is scientific reasoning. With all of our obvious and explored differences, the only way we can move forward into some sort of unifying and diverse utopia is to start the decision making from our similarities.
Our political arena will need to shift to a more respectable level of discourse and allow for the representation of more than just two diametrically opposed views on an issue. A pluralist, multi-party system, or at least a structure that allows for multi-party systems to emerge when necessary, seems like the logical next step to encouraging people to use the power of their votes. If the goal is to have even more people involved in elections, statistics from many countries indicate that making voting compulsory has a positive effect on turnout. The data shows it works: countries such as Germany actually maintain a close to 80% turnout, even with non-compulsory voting, due to their diverse multi-party system.
Looking back at history, only one thing seems certain: if the media and government continue to remain disconnected from their populations, and they stray too far from the population’s desires, rebellion becomes an appealing alternative to the democratic process. One of the things many people find so fascinating about democracy is how successful it can be when the public believes in its capabilities. When America believes in it, democracy has the capacity to transfer power peacefully and consistently, as our ideas, needs, wants, and technology advance and evolve. The key to maintaining it lies in convincing our Silent Majority that the power of the vote would work for them, too.