Apathy in our Democracy

One issue plaguing our democracy is the decrease in voter turn out. In American Citizenship, Judith Shklar talks about the dilemmas behind groups fighting so hard to gain the right to vote, only to not show up at the polls. Ironically, self-governing is a major principle that brought this country to revolution, but in reality, the lack of self-governing could be seen as a threat to our own democracy.

It could be said that protesting for suffrage and enacting change is much more appealing than anything that comes after it. A lot of the times, we can even find that some ideas like going out to a bar, getting a new job, or enrolling in school is much more exciting than the actions themselves (as we discussed in class), but I’d argue that the issue goes much deeper when it comes to voter turn out. The sentiment isn’t false, as I’m sure we’ve all been more excited for ideas rather than work, but having turn out as low as 60% in presidential elections and as low as 40% during mid terms, when faith in congress is consistently at single digits, along with minority demographics still voting at a lower rate than white males, it seems like the system itself, which was built upon mass exclusion, might also have a lot to do with this phenomenon.

Overall, the decline in voter turn out and the decline of faith in our institutions might have a connection. Firstly, as faith in our government lowers, evidenced by Public Policy Polling showing that 9% of Americans have a favorable view on congress, it might be very well in the interests of those in power to do what they can to suppress turn out. With voter ID laws and the closing of many polling stations, it looks like the survival of both parties relies on ostracizing the massive voices that want them out, namely millennials. In Arizona, Ducey just signed a bill criminalizing the collection of early voting ballots in order to “ensure honest elections.” In reality, we should all be alarmed when our government passes more restrictions to “ensure freedom.” On top of all this, there’s gerrymandering. We do not have laws that restrict partisan gerrymandering, meaning that legislatures can still draw district lines that help their reelection. When voting is made complicated and when a vote in one district is more valuable than a vote in another, it’s no wonder that people would just not show up; they don’t see a point.

The other issue when it comes to turnout is the trust in media. Since 9/11, which saw a spike in media trust, the public’s opinion of the media has steadily declined. There is a huge disconnect with the media and the American people. Since it’s the media’s  job to report on our politics, their journalism has a direct effect on not only the faith in our government, but the people’s will to do anything about our government. Outlets, mostly CNN, are guilty of providing false equivalents and polarizing issues that Americans agree on. For example, the majority of Americans agree on issues like more gun restrictions, legalizing marijuana, expanding social security, expanding healthcare, and stopping foreign interventions, but the news will present issues as “Republicans by default want to cut social security, and Democrats by default want to expand social security, so we’ll always have a Republican with his historical talking points and a Democrat with his. You decide who’s right.” In reality, 77% of Americans want to expand social security, and the disconnected media will keep its attitude of being “unbias” when in they’re actually keeping the status quo by keeping Americans divided. A presentation of neutrality is not honest representation, it’s a way to keep things how they are. Just like legislatures don’t want more people voting in each election, other than the people who just voted them in, being “neutral” is just a way of avoiding facts and shifts in demographics. This in turn adds to the distrust and apathy for our government, as our media will keep presenting our government as two warring factions rather than how well they as a whole are representing our values. It might be true that fighting for suffrage is more fun than voting, but that doesn’t explain the trends we see today. Racism, sexism, and bigotry don’t just go away because groups gain citizenship; the legislatures will still fight to keep those who couldn’t vote before from voting.



Media distrust: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/why-do-americans-distrust-the-media/500252/


Continued voter suppression: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-democrats-suppress-the-vote/

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2 Responses to Apathy in our Democracy

  1. monicaybarra says:

    Great topic! I definitely agree that when it comes to voting there are a lot of people who feel apathetic to the practice. When talking to people about it a lot of the times they’ll mention how they don’t think that their vote matters, so they choose not to waste their time. Or they’ll say that they don’t like any option they have to choose from. Or often times too they’ll simply say that they don’t know enough about what their voting on to put in their input. I think education plays a huge part in this topic, especially relating to the millennial generation.
    If people were more aware of our voting system and how it works, I think they would be more comfortable exercising the practice. Also, I think that when in high school, unless one’s parents are heavily involved in politics, some young adults aren’t exposed to politics until they get into college, and even then it’s really only if they decide to pursue that. If we had an education system that teaches more about policy, how to follow politics, how to make sure you’re represented and what that means, how our voting system works, and how to exercise our voting rights, there might be a better voter turn out. Of course they teach the basics in school, but the world of politics is a plethora of not only history but current events as well which are never changing, and being in your late teens/early twenties and starting to try to get involved can be very difficult and even discouraging.
    I really liked all the points that you gave as to why there is not a high voter turn out and I believe that in order to increase voter turn out something needs to change.

  2. fendogmillionaire says:

    Great breakdown of the relationship between voter apathy and distrust of government! I think a lot of this distrust of media and government really originates from the level of communication we have today and feeds into itself. News Networks need to find ways to fill 24 hours a day with interesting content and find a way to draw in an increasingly disinterested crowd into their network, and this leads to more sensationalized stories and the issue of ‘showing both sides’ even when there’s one side that clearly wins. It’s better for entertainment to have a close race, so for news networks to get ratings they need to push these narratives, which is to the detriment of the network’s legitimacy and leads to this decrease. On the government side, I think there’s a lot of evidence that this political manipulation like gerrymandering is something that’s gone on for a long time, but now, due to the amount of communication and transparency that exists compared to say 20 years ago, this is more noticeable and makes it easier to be disillusioned with the democratic process. I know that the sheer amount of information and controversy coming from both media and government wears me out, and I have to imagine it wears out other people too.

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