The “Irritable” Nonvoters: There’s Nobody to Vote For

By Julie Fustanio
Medill News Service

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Michael Keegan got up early on Nov. 5 with big plans. But his sights weren’t set on electing a president. Instead, he hoped to catch the 10-point buck that got away from him Monday.

Keegan has pulled the trigger every hunting season since he shot his first buck at age 13. But he has never pulled the lever in any of the 11 elections in which he was eligible to vote.

To Keegan, politics is a different animal. And politicians are all crooks.

Swayed by his wife’s argument that “if you are not part of the system you can’t complain about the system,” Keegan registered to vote for the first time this year.

“Now I have a right to say it’s bull…

“Anybody had the chance to win my vote this election,” Keegan said. “They all blew it.”

Keegan was identified in a Medill News Service poll of 1,001 likely nonvoters as a type of nonvoter called “Irritable.” Irritables, at 18 percent of all likely nonvoters, are angry, tend to be older, think the country is on the “wrong track” and overwhelmingly agree that “most elected officials don’t care what people like me think.”

So, although this Election Day had the potential to turn this Pennsylvania nonvoter into a voter, Nov. 5 was like any day during hunting season for Keegan. He woke up before the sun rose, drank chocolate milk, hunted, smoked a pack and a half of Marlboros and went to bed early after a long day’s work renovating a farmhouse.

Eager to escape the pressures of life and the incessant drum of political news, Keegan listened to Arlo Guthrie instead of the morning news on the way up to the woods.

When he reached the blind he built, a squirrel rustling in the leaves and some geese honking overhead were the only sounds that he heard as he crouched behind his blind and pointed his crossbow into the darkness.

Camouflage-clad from head to toe, his long brown hair pulled into a ponytail, Keegan waited in silence for more than two hours. But even after he planted scents, cooed and rattled antlers together, no deer appeared.

As he left the woods, Keegan’s silence turned to rage when he was reminded that the polls still were open. “[Republican Bob] Dole is a screw-up and [President] Clinton is a liar, drug addict and a thief,” he said.

All of the candidates, he added, were unworthy of his vote. “I’m not voting because there is nobody to vote for.”

What kind of candidate would bring him to the polls? First he would have to be a veteran, someone who has served his country. Second, he would have to know how Congress works. And third and most importantly, he would have to be honest – the number one response to a similar Pennsylvania exit poll question by NBC.

Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were honest men, according to Keegan – and so is he. “If I ran for president,” he said. “I’d tell you how it is.”

Geordie Robinson, who lives on the land where Keegan hunts, did make it to the polls, but said he agrees with most of Keegan’s beliefs and would probably vote for him if he ran for president.

According to Voter News Service, the percentage of voting-age Americans who cast ballots dropped 5 percent in Pennsylvania this election. A local radio program Tuesday that asked callers whether they would have for “none of the above” for president if they could was flooded with calls.

“Politicians are crooked and talk out both sides of their mouth,” Robinson said. “[Keegan] is honest, works hard and serves his family.”

To call Keegan an “Irritable,” one of five types of likely nonvoters found in the Medill poll, is to understate his anger toward government – an anger that is marked by scars from his past.

Born and raised in West Chester, Pa., 40-year-old Keegan is the son of an Irishman with a temper that often sent Keegan and his brother to the hospital. “If it was 10 years later, my dad would be in prison for what he did to me,” Keegan said.

A gunshot wound in his right arm marks the day his father was cleaning his gun and misfired. Another time, Keegan said, his father hit him so hard with the phone that his skull was cracked.

Keegan was 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was sent to Vietnam as a sharpshooter, where he was wounded, leaving his right hand lame. When he came home, he was spat upon – a reaction to his military service that eventually sent Keegan to a psychological hospital for nine months.

“I felt more at home in the jungle that I did in my own country,” he said.

Voting was a low priority at that point in Keegan’s life. But even now that he is the father of a 24-year-old daughter and stepfather of a 21-year-old son, a landowner in upstate New York, and an independent businessman, he doesn’t vote because he doesn’t trust the candidates.

“I can’t trust anything unless it is in my own hands – and that’s my personal problem,” he said.

Recently, he wrote his state and local political representatives opposing a new wing being built for the families of veterans at the Veterans Administration hospital in Coatesville, Pa.

“That building is for me,” he said. “I’m not saying forget about the families, but the vets come first.”

As for other letters he has written to politicians, “They are probably in some file in some back drawer somewhere up high in the government that says, This guy is an instigator,’” he said.

A self-employed stone mason, Keegan spends his days alone, building walls and designing walkways. He works a lot because he believes that he is the only one who can secure his future when Social Security runs out of money.

“I don’t see a man in office right now that has the character to be president [and change the direction of the country.] All I see are characters.”

The character most associated with Keegan, at least among his friends, is the Disney cartoon dog “Goofy.”

He accepts his nickname and even advertises with a sign on the grill of his truck and pictures along the sides. And like Goofy, he doesn’t allow personal criticism to bother him, but lets it roll off his back.

On the rear gate of Keegan’s blue truck is a picture of his dream house, by a creek in Spencer, N.Y. Two years ago he bought the land, on which he intends to build the house and hunt.

Knowing that he has his land makes him confident that he will be able to provide for himself and his family without government help.

“No matter what this country does, I know that I have 15 acres that I can build a house on, grow corn, hunt deer and feed my family,” he said.

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