The world has recently seen a spike in unconventional politicking. Is this a manifestation of a turn toward extremism, or is it indicative of a larger problem: political apathy?

The world has recently seen a spike in unconventional politicking. Is this a manifestation of a turn toward extremism, or is it indicative of a larger problem: political apathy?

The United Kingdom recently held the referendum commonly known as Brexit, which decided that the UK would leave the European Union. The United States recently saw the official nomination of Donald Trump, a larger-than-life former reality TV star who has never held public office. Across the West, the success of populist movements and of demagogues who prey on the fears of the uneducated and uninformed has surprised experts and, more disturbingly, the majority population itself.

The culture shift, however, is not one that indicates the success of extremism, but rather the failure of political centrism. Those political centrists across the West that have for so long balanced the extremism and populism that has caused anomalies like Brexit and the nomination of Donald Trump have become apathetic, and therefore, given up their influence. Those political centrists and moderates have long made up the majority in any population as a way to balance the extremes. However, when moderates lose their will to influence politics in their home countries, the extremism that they knowingly or unknowingly stemmed is able to gain prominence.

When Did We Become Apathetic?

Using the example of US presidential primaries, a distinct pattern emerges of increasing political apathy. Since 1980, the percent of eligible voters who vote in primaries has been on a steady decline: at 26% in 1980, in 2004 only 14.7% of eligible voters turned out in both parties, combined. Though there was an unprecedented spike in 2008, in 2012 the percentage decreased to 14.5%, lower even than in 2004. Though, this year, the attendance has spiked yet again, it has only risen to 28%, split evenly between the parties. Less than one-third of the electorate decides which presidential candidate receives the ultimate nomination, showing the political apathy that allows for the success of the extreme minority.

Similarly, there was a direct correlation between areas that voted “Leave” in the Brexit referendum and percent voter turnout. The “Leave” position–widely accepted as more extreme–attracted higher percents of the population than that of “Remain.” Moderate voters in Britain became apathetic, and did not turn out in as high numbers to vote for their cause as those who were more politically extreme.

Apathy may be its own downfall

This trend of apathy has progressed to the point when genuine, unmistakeable damage is being done to the US and Britain, however this recognizable impact may be the end of the phenomenon that caused it.

The media has begun to report more and more on the populism and extremism that has caused alarming events like Brexit and the nomination of Donald Trump, rather than simply the events themselves. There has been discussion of a second referendum, or a trade deal that would minimize the economic impact of Brexit on Britain. Much of the Republican elite has denounced Mr. Trump, with major Republican figures and donors refusing their support.

Though it is imperative to recognize the trend of apathy that has afflicted the West, it is just as important not to allow it to further cause the descent into apathy. We can change, as has already been proven. The majority must simply realize their power, and this period of political turmoil can come to an end.

Maya Rubin is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016. She has had internships at the offices of two New York City government officials, as well as at Ma’yan, a Jewish women’s organization. She currently...

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