COMMENTARY: Whom are you a constituent of? According to A Glossary of Political Economic Terms, a constituent is: “A person who is represented politically by a designated government official or officeholder, especially when the official is one that the person represented has the opportunity to participate in selecting through voting or perhaps through other methods of indicating political confidence and support.
“A Senator’s constituency consists of the citizenry who reside within his or her state. The constituency of a Member of the House of Representatives consists of the people who live in his or her district. Although the core meaning of the term has to do with the relationship between the voters and their selected representatives, the term is often expanded somewhat to include other individuals or groups whose interest any official in government (whether elected or not) feels morally obligated (or compelled by the political realities of the situation) to protect or further in the policy-making process.” (italics added)
At best, voters are the highest priority — but still only one constituency — of their elected representatives. At worst, they are their lowest priority.
Public attitudes, voting behavior and scientific research all support the conclusion that ordinary citizens rank very low as important, recognized constituents of their elected representatives.
The public’s ranking of how well it believes Congress is doing its job can reasonably be viewed as reflecting their sense of how well-represented they are. A Rasmussen Survey taken on Nov. 21 found that only 13 percent of likely voters thought Congress was doing a good or excellent job. Since each respondent is left to decide what “Congress doing its job” means to them, it is fair to say that the general public believes Congress is not serving them well.
Voting behavior, specifically voter turnout, reflects a populations’ engagement with their government. U.S. voter turnout is consistently poor and well below the rest of the developed world. Many people, as a result of their personal voting experience, have been turned off on the process because they believe that their vote does not count.
It may be because the person they voted for has done little for them and their community, or because they do not trust the integrity of the voting process (65 percent of those polled right before the last election were less than “very confident” that their vote would be counted accurately). Turnout data gives us ample reason to believe that people have serious doubts about the quality of their representation.
People who have a strong expectation that their vote will count and has meaning are motivated to vote. For the past several decades, between 40 and 50 percent of eligible voters in U.S. presidential elections lacked the requisite motivation.
A well-known study published in 2014 provides empirical support for the assertion that the general public is no longer the constituency of Congress. According to the authors, “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
In other words, Congress consistently ignores the needs and desires of the public in favor of the elite segment of the nation, corporations and the wealthy.
In what can only be labeled a grand betrayal within a democracy, Congress openly rejects its responsibility and allegiance to the American public, to whom its members owe their positions. In a cynical act of defiance, and with arrogant impunity, Congress as a whole has thrown off the people as its rightful master and replaced us with the wealthy ruling elite for their mutual benefit.
Since we lack an effective way, playing by the rules, to get Congress to represent us as they should and to wrest governing control from the unelected elite, extraordinary measures are called for. Before they would resort to such extraordinary measures, Americans will first have to understand that continuing with business as usual, playing by the customary electoral rules, will not end the downward spiral we are in.
Change will come once a critical mass of people who have that understanding set out to forcefully and consistently assert their demands via civil disobedience, general strikes and significant disruption of national economic activity.
Max Mastellone is a long-time activist and a Las Cruces resident. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? NMPolitics.net welcomes your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.