In today’s world of quick and easy information exchanges, you would think that as a whole we would be a more informed population. However, when it comes to politics, that couldn’t be further from the truth. One poll from Rasmussen Reports states that 83 percent think that Americans are not informed voters.
While some may take an active role in political engagement and civic literacy, many of us don’t.
Historically, citizens have been very involved in politics. The founding fathers, and those who signed the Declaration of Independence were actively involved. The free masons held meetings to discuss politics. The point here being, politics was a point of discussion for the average American. Ideas were traded, challenged, and shared with friends, family, and acquaintances; but somewhere along the way in history, discussing politics outside of being a politician has become a faux pas.
The common saying: “Don’t talk politics or religion” has been passed around as a folkway for proper discussion habits (even Linus in Charlie Brown makes mention of it), but when we don’t talk politics with one another, we are only a receiver of information and don’t engage in further conversation. We watch the news or scroll on our social media to see the latest political issue, and then stop there. We don’t challenge the information or take personal steps to seek out additional research or varying views.
We avoid controversial issues, tip-toeing around a problem, hoping to not hurt anyone’s feelings or have our own stance be challenged. This social norm keeps our views at a stable yet unchallenged state without proper research and information to back it up.
The aforementioned social norm shows through in our voting system. When we vote, especially for President, the decision has become something so simple as checking off a box with a name on it. There is no information given about the candidate besides their political affiliation on the ballot. Our voting system doesn’t require us to actually peruse any additional information on candidates, so essentially any person old enough to vote can go in completely uninformed about a candidate and make a decision that holds an immense amount of weight in our country. Although some may think, “My vote doesn’t count,” it very much so does.
When we don’t actively engage in political discussion and information, we are abusing our right to vote, something very unique to our country. Our vote has the possibility to chose who runs our country, what laws are passed, and how we handle foreign relations rather than simply “checking off a box” or worse, not voting at all. It is our responsibility as a citizen to make an informed decision, but the problem is many of us are uninformed and it’s not because we don’t have access to information; more often than not, it’s because we just don’t to further engage.
While I think it would be a great social advancement to include politics into our dinnertime conversations, a change like that won’t happen before the next presidential election and I doubt many people will start to take it upon themselves to delve deeper into political thought. Since voting is so powerful, I think it should reflect and uphold the responsibility we as citizens have.
A potential solution to our current irresponsible voting system could be a quick test before Election Day. This test could be offered months before election day and would be very simple: match the candidate to their stance on foreign policy, working conditions, taxes, national security, etc. After the voter answers a certain percentage correctly, they could then cast their vote, and hopefully a little more informed. And if they didn’t “pass the test” then they would be allowed to take the quiz an unlimited amount of times before Election Day. This “solution” would hopefully encourage voters to engage in politics and further research topics to make a more responsible decision.
While the solution is not detailed and may not be a feasible request, it would hold us more accountable for our role in the government, because whether we acknowledge it or not, the citizen base is one of the largest bodies in politics and holds an incredible amount of responsibility.
Collegian Columnist Bridgette Windell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @Bridgette_Rae.