Before getting carried away with supposed messages or mandates to emerge from the recent presidential election, consider some numbers.
As of Friday, President-elect Donald Trump had about 60 million votes, which trailed Hillary Clinton’s 60.4 million. Because Electoral College votes matter more than the popular vote, the final popular vote total is irrelevant to the outcome, except that it illustrates how disengaged Americans voters were this year.
Despite reports of record turnout in some places, the numbers seem to indicate a lot of people stayed home. The major candidates succeeded in attracting fewer votes than those in recent elections.
Consider that Trump, the winner, still is far below the nearly 61 million votes Mitt Romney got in a losing effort in 2012. In 2008, Obama got 69,498,516, and loser John McCain had about as many votes as Trump appears to have received.
If the numbers stand, that means Trump won the election with nearly 10 million fewer votes than Obama received eight years ago.
Granted, the various other candidates on the ballot this year collectively garnered less than 7 million votes. That was considerably more than recent election years. Still, it does not add to a figure that would indicate robust interest, especially because the voting population has only grown since those elections.
As we said in an earlier editorial, Trump now deserves the prayers and support of the American people, regardless of which candidate they supported. It is equally important, however, for Americans to consider their own level of engagement in the democratic process. Voting always involves a level of compromise. Being disgusted with the choices should not be an excuse for failing to cast a ballot, particularly with all the other choices available.
That does not excuse the vulgar and nasty tone of the campaigns. Americans endured three presidential debates that, for the most part, sounded more like schoolyard arguments than high-level discussions of issues. It was quite natural for people to feel repulsed. And yet, this repulsion should be channeled into greater political engagement at the national and local levels.
To be clear, political engagement does not begin at the ballot box in November. It begins in caucuses and town halls, in conversations around the dinner table and neighborhood. This year, much of the talk was about various factions overwhelming that process, but the figures from Tuesday don’t back that up.
While local figures are not yet available, Utah has seen a declining turnout trend continue for many years. Figures sometimes can be confusing, as results that are stated as a percentage of registered voters can sound impressive while ignoring how many eligible voters never register. Too many people never bother to take the first step.
Low voter turnout affects a lot more than the presidential race. Local races, ballot questions and bond measures have a much more immediate impact on lives than anything happening in Washington. They ought to demand at least as much attention and study.
Experts are drawing many conclusions from this election, including that Trump relied on white voters at a time when minority populations are rapidly expanding, and that Clinton failed to energize the minority voters who rallied for Obama.
In the final analysis, however, Trump cannot be said to be entering office with a clear mandate. He must, as he said, unite Americans and show he is a leader to all. Americans, in return, must resolve to become more engaged in a political process that demands their participation.