To return to the issue that I touched on yesterday, I am interested in the pros/cons of how American voters consume information, make decisions and engage with their government. Basically, does it matter if more than half the country doesn’t pay attention, care or vote?
Beginning with the most basic level, we are bombarded with entertainment, information and tasks everyday. Our lives are complicated, busy and always moving forward. There’s no reason or way to make people care about what happens to their government, society or lives. Also, societal changes (other than small increases/decreases in taxes) take a long time to impact our everyday lives.
My friend and political collaborator, Brad, and I were discussing whether or not it matters how many people pay attention. As long as there is The Atlantic, New Yorker, NPR, The Economist, and others like them, Brad and I can get the in-depth information we want about politics, economics, foreign relations and social justice. If we can still get quality reporting and analysis we want, who cares how many other people share our interests?
On the other hand, Americans in all industries, businesses and markets have some relationship to the government. It’s probably smart for people in every socio-economic class and any occupation to be paying attention to the government’s decisions. As a political science student, contracting analyst in metro D.C. and law school, my peers more than most are probably not the average 20 something level of interest. So what about everyone else? Do Americans care as little as the media portrays?
In 2008, if expressed in terms of vote eligible population (VEP), the 2008 national turnout rate was 61.7% from 131.3 million ballots cast for president, according to Wikipedia. Also, the irony is that many people vote in the President election, obviously it’s the big leagues of elections, but fewer people vote in other elections – House and Senate for example – which have a greater chance of affecting their day-to-day lives.
I heard an interesting opinion recently on “Common Sense with Dan Carlin,” a podcast that I’ve only listened to a few times. Carlin’s theory was we’re going about elections all wrong. Instead of approaching it the way P.Diddy’s “Rock the Vote” campaign does, which registers voters quickly and in the heat of the election in order to get higher turnout, we should be approaching it like drunk driving.
Friends don’t let friends vote uninformed.
His theory goes that many social groups are pawns to special interests or some people just flat out don’t understand the connection between their vote for a candidate and what that candidate can/cannot do for them. His idea was that we allow the people who don’t care or who vote for a candidate without any sense of who the opponent even is, to feel free not to vote. Empower them to let others choose. Let the country be directed and elections decided by those people who are paying attention and understand the role politicians play in forming and passing legislation. A radical departure from the comfortable, “oh, well, everyone should vote, it’s a civic duty” mindset. This let me to think – is possible to do a disservice with a civil duty?
In thinking about this issue, I’m incredibly torn between the feeling that everyone should be involved, attentive and vote for our leaders vs. the reality of the situation, which is that 40%+ of eligible voters aren’t interested. Do we want more voters or better voters?
This has brought up more questions than it has answered but I hope it gets people thinking. As I continue to deal with these issues, I hope to narrow my focus to better answers and potential solutions as I write and explore the intersection of politics and culture.