By Hayden Welty ’19
As I was reviewing some concepts for the Advanced Placement United States History exam this May, there was a line in my test prep book that resonated with me:
“The Founding Fathers understood such a system to have hope of success only when the citizenry was moral and responsible.”
While I’m not going blame Americans for being immoral and irresponsible, I do think that it is extremely concerning when only 46 percent of Americans know that each state has two senators, according to a poll done by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate.
Additionally, that same poll also says that only one-fifth of Americans have reached out to their representative in Washington, D.C.
Voter turnout, especially in midterm elections, is extremely low, hitting an abysmal 35.9 percent in the 2014 elections.
And, generally speaking, most Americans just don’t know much about politics: If you ask any random citizen on the street, most could not tell you the name of their representative in Congress, and even less could give you information about their state representatives.
This lack of knowledge about our political system is frighteningly disconcerting. And as you go down the ladder to the local levels, Americans’ political literacy becomes progressively worse, which is especially concerning when you consider that policy that affects citizens the most is formed, passed and reviewed at the state and county level.
Oftentimes, I think that we tend to blame the president for all of our political problems, which is just not fair when you consider that the lion’s share of the responsibility lies with the entire government, including Congress, the Supreme Court and state and local branches as well, and not just one person.
To produce an environment that is conducive to effective political discourse, we must remain steadfast in the notion that our democracy revolves around the people, and as such, people must be informed — more than just barely knowing about the presidential elections.
If you have a problem, don’t blame it on the president. A slogan, widely circulated during President Barack Obama’s second term, called “Thanks Obama” led people to foolishly and carelessly blame the 44th president as the source of their problems.
Beyond just being knowledgeable, citizens also must take action. Our state capitol is a great place to start and is such an underrated and overlooked resource for people who wish to make a difference.
Because of the fact that most people will never ever go to the state capitol and see what goes on there, the actual facility is surprisingly open.
For those looking to get involved and make a difference, I would encourage them to focus less on the national spotlight where the chances of making an impressionable dent in policy are slim to none and more on local areas, which are arguably more important for your community.
Calling a national congressman who represents hundreds of thousands of people is a surprisingly rare thing to do, so imagine how much a little face-to-face time with your state representative can possibly influence them.
Uninformed voters lead to bad choices in political representation, which ultimately results in a less fruitful democracy. Voter apathy and especially civil inaction are characteristic of a democracy’s where corruption, ineffectiveness and indifference thrive.
I urge any voter to be active and to get informed.