Eradicating Political Apathy

64% of Americans voted in the last presidential election1. 41.8% voted in the 2010 congressional election2.  In the most recent French presidential election, there was more than 80% voter turnout3.

These numbers convey what is arguably the largest problem plaguing American politics today: apathy.  A large portion of the American public is entirely indifferent to political affairs. This puts our country in a dangerous situation in which a maximum of 2/3 of the country is making decisions for the entire population.

The American public can be divided into three groups: those who already care about the issue at hand, those who are inherently uninterested, and those who are not inherently interested, but can be swayed into caring.  The latter, often the largest group, is the target.  How does one get this group to pay enough attention to politics that it votes?  There are two solutions.

The less immediate of the two is to target the youth population, particularly at the high school level.  Research has shown that the earlier citizens are introduced to politics and the democratic voting system, the more likely they are to participate consistently in elections throughout their lives.  The process of registering to vote appears mystifying and complicated to many who aren’t registered.  Having a registration booth at high school job fairs or club fairs makes the process easier and therefore gets citizens involved in politics earlier.  Incorporating the democratic process into everyday school life is beneficial too.  School elections are an obvious way to incorporate this.  In 2011, Rock the Vote developed “Democracy Day” in which teachers across the country committed to devoting one class period to a Democracy Class, a “program that uses video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills to navigate the election process and engage as active citizens4.”

The class encourages students to name local and national issues that affect them, teaches the history of voting rights in this country, and ends with a mock election in which each student creates a platform of issues he or she supports and “runs for office”.  All of this garners interest and enthusiasm for the democratic process in high school students.  Creating an environment where the rights and duties of a citizen are discussed early on increases the likelihood that students will be politically involved throughout their lives.

Political apathy can also be eliminated through simple alterations in our political language and discussions.  Policies should be discussed in terms of how they affect citizens’ lives.  By personalizing each issue, people will be more inclined to be informed and vote for candidates who support their opinions.  The initial, and enduring, low approval rating of Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act can be partly attributed to the fact that it was never fully explained in terms of effect on daily life of Americans; a Reuters/Ipsos poll found the following:

5

Once broken down into its provisions, the Affordable Healthcare Act, excluding the individual mandate, was appealing to most people.  However, the overall support for the act was low, lower, in fact, than the support for the least well-liked piece of the act–the individual mandate.  A more recent poll, by the Pew Research Center, serves as a testament to how politically unaware our citizens are, even on major issues.  30% of those interviewed did not know the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act.  15% thought that the act was struck down6.  Most bills in Congress affect most citizens, either directly or through a family member or friend who is directly affected.  Through a shift in our political language, people will come to realize this, and will consequently pay more attention to politics and create more informed opinions.

Apathy does not have to be a permanent part of American politics.  Through targeting the youth in our country and further explaining each policy and bill we can begin to garner a genuine interest in political affairs.  Sustained awareness about and participation in politics will lead us to a country in which government acts in a way more representative of the people’s needs and desires.

Sources:

1 http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/voting/cb09-110.html

2 http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/p20/2010/tables.html http://activecitizen.tufts.edu

3 http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/06/world/europe/france-election/index.html

4 http://www.rockthevote.com/about/democracy-class.html

5 http://m.static.newsvine.com/servista/imagesizer?file=steve-benen7E111609-608B-74FC-7167-F305002B5963.jpg&width=600

6 http://www.people-press.org/2012/07/02/division-uncertainty-over-courts-health-care-ruling/

Advertisements
Previous Post
Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. xyz

     /  July 9, 2012

    i’d love to see the support/oppose breakdown on the 500 billion increases in taxes and the 500 billion slashed from medicaid

    Reply
  2. ^ at the last commenter:
    500 billion in taxes and medicaid cuts? made up numbers. got a source?
    http://www.mcknights.com/big-medicaid-cuts-a-possibility-if-the-affordable-care-act-is-overturned-experts-suggest/article/246635/
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kathleen-sebelius-the-affordable-care-act-has-made-the-us-health-care-system-stronger/2012/07/09/gJQA1BOOZW_story.html
    Medicaid and Medicare are both strengthened by the ACA.

    You’re entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts.

    Reply
  3. xyz

     /  July 10, 2012

    tax increases: http://www.atr.org/full-list-obamacare-tax-hikes-listed-a7010
    cuts to medicare: http://news.investors.com/article/612925/201205291831/obamacare-requires-massive-cuts-in-medicare-to-keep-spending-controlled.htm?p=full

    no one’s arguing that trying to extend more healthcare to more people is a bad thing. but there are good ways and bad ways to implement health care reform. and the bad way is this job-killing, expensive expansion of government that changes the relationship between citizen and government at a fundamental level

    Reply
  4. zzzzz

     /  July 11, 2012

    Reply
  5. The Nervous Cat

     /  July 22, 2012

    I don’t mean to stick my head in the sand, but I am so turned of by the rapid increase in political polarization that I just don’t want to hear anymore about presidential election issues (or any other political issues for that matter). I’ve been bombarded by cable and internet news & commentary, and sometimes unsolicted phone calls from political campaigns (robo-calls or otherwise). People want to get involved with politics to make a difference (that’s what most Tea Party members say), but the opposite is happening to me. I get more cynical and want to get less involved. My whole attitude is now “Meh.” Obamacare – Meh! Romney – Meh! Fiscal Cliff – Meh! 2012 Presidential Election – Meh, don’t care anymore.

    Reply
    • Were you ever interested in politics? I don’t blame you for being turned off by the all of the partisan politics we see nowadays, but sometimes people are less interested in the “politics”, i.e.: bickering, part of the political scene and more interested in policy changes or specific issues. This is ultimately more important, and will lead to less purely partisan politics, wherein someone will vote for a candidate who does not support his or her political views, but is a part of a party he or she has historically voted for.
      And the more informed voters are about the realities of the country and the specifics of an issue, the more they will vote according to their wants and needs. That is what we should strive to attain: a country in which informed voters and politicians make the decisions they deem best for themselves and their fellow citizens.

      So even if the latest soundbites from either political party repulse you, I urge you to stay informed on the facts.

      Happy Sunday!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: