Tristam Cheeseman, an Ohio politician and BGSU history student, sees political abstinence as increasingly harmful to the voting landscape.
During Cheeseman’s senior year of high school, he ran as a Democrat for statewide office in Allen County, as a District 4 state representative for the Ohio Statehouse. He ran against Republican Bob Cupp, and his official campaign lasted from May until November of 2018. He lost the election, as Cupp garnered approximately 30,000 votes and Cheeseman gathered about 10,000.
The campaign was rough for Cheeseman, because he worked with no headquarters and did all the work involved with campaigning by himself. He experienced the full effects of attempting to collect votes with no workers to aid him.
“It was hard because you have to go to the people you’ve lived around your whole life, specifically in my suburb, and say ‘Hey, it’s me, Cheeseman, will you sign this petition so I can run for the party that you hate?’” Cheeseman said.
In this process of working by himself, he said he recognized many people did not want to canvas for him because they associated his political party with a greater chance of losing.
Even general supporters found themselves unsure of canvassing for Cheeseman because they did not want to campaign for somebody they assumed would not win. This method of thinking is damaging to a movement — ultimately, allowing the opposing front to gain more votes.
While the national student voting rate nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018, attitudes of complacency and helplessness among voters remain.
“Voters are more enthusiastic about voting than in any midterm election in over 20 years of Pew Research Center polling. Still, millions of Americans will not exercise their right to vote,” Hannah Hartig wrote in a 2018 study.
This PRC poll documented the attitudes Americans hold about voting, some of which aligned with Cheeseman’s experience from the other side of the voting booth. Of those polled, 8% said it would be difficult to vote because political participation did not matter enough, and another 4% said they think their vote would not change anything in the election.
Regardless of whatever political party someone affiliates with, many people tend to think of their votes and their opinions as insignificant in an election. Cheeseman said it is instinctual to want to be on the “winning” side of anything, so when the idea is planted that a candidate is expected to lose, hesitancy to participate settles in — people perceive abstaining as better than losing.
“The people who say they don’t vote are the hopeless people or the ones who live in a privileged bubble. That goes for all parties,” Cheeseman said.
According to the PRC study, people list many reasons for not looking forward to voting — these reasons range from distrust of politicians to logistical obstacles.
One 75-year-old women responded to the open-ended question “Voting will be difficult this year because” with “Neither party right now looks out for the citizens of this country.”
Another man, 40, responded with “Because voting is a painful process. In the 2016 election, I stood in line for 3 hours in the rain to vote. Local governments need to make it easier for people to vote.”