The lowest common denominator

It’s a concept you may remember from math. It is “the lowest common multiple of the denominators of a set of fractions. It simplifies adding, subtracting, and comparing fractions.”

It’s also a general term that applies to how things are grouped together, even individuals.

It’s a known adage that no two people are alike. And yet, when it comes to politics, we often try to group by party in a way that leaves no room for variance.

It’s understood that this is used for convenience. That if one person is going to be representative of the party, then that person must be representative of all within the party.

Statistics are used to maintain this belief. But statistics can be misleading, whether unintentionally, or purposefully, based on who’s providing the data and how it was collected.

But it’s simple enough to say that there are differences that become relevant the more a group is broken down. Simple enough to start with the US population of around 330 million, then break that into two parties – Republican and Democrat; approximately 30% and 40% of the voting-eligible population, respectively. Independents also come in at around 30%.

But isn’t this so simplistic? There are fifty states, 14 territories, and numerous divisions in how one may view a candidate vs. another. Even so, we break it down.

Age gaps. Voters vs. non-voters, and in most elections the US trails other developed countries in voter turnout. College-educated or those without degrees.

I don’t know that I would argue against a two-party system, as it does provide context to a political race that could otherwise become encumbered with too many candidates, and without adequate preparation mistakes could be made in voting. That’s easy to understand.

Harder to understand is the demonization of differing opinions. This race was especially venomous, and not without cause.

But the votes that came in numbered over seventy million for each of the two parties’ candidates. If no two are alike, it’s much less likely that seventy million on either side share so much in common.

But of all 140 or 150 million, I could easily see that fear plays a part. Fear of what the country may become under the opposing party’s leadership. Fear of what daily life for an individual could look like, given the changes that this country has already gone through just over the past fifty or sixty years.

And as despicable as it is, fear is a powerful tool in winning elections. That’s why attack ads are used as frequently as they are.

And I suppose that my hope is that, as elections come and go, we remember that we shouldn’t resort to finding the lowest common denominator, but rather challenge ourselves to raise up to higher levels of democracy, civility, and unity.


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