By: Nate Sikora – Staff Writer
As we recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, the United States is experiencing an interesting phenomenon in regards to political participation. The cultural transformation of the 21st century, of which is highly due to technological innovation, has formed a new type of political apathy among American electorate. The rise of social media and other forms of instant communication have greatly altered the public sphere in how individuals deliberate over the issues of our time; however, the way in which we act in response to these issues has changed. The ubiquitous existence of political apathy in the American electorate has come to full fruition in this time and age. Sure, it could be said that forms of political apathy have existed during the duration of this nation’s existence, especially during the post-Nixon political era, but the difference in this case is that people may fail to value political participation but yet still hold strong opinions on the issues. In essence, the American public has become increasingly partisan and contentious but does absolutely nothing about it.
College campuses are perfect examples of this phenomenon. For example, helping registering voters on campuses is what I find to be the best experience to prove the existence of political apathy in voting age youth. Consistently, volunteers are turned down by passing students who deny the opportunity to register to vote. Yes, it should also be taken into account that some must travel to their next class, but still, the overwhelming majority turn down the offer. Anecdotal evidence can only reach so far in proving this point, yet it just so happens that factual evidences this claim.
In the last presidential election in 2012, only 57.5 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls that day. Almost four out of every 10 Americans decided not to vote. This creates a debacle with the principle of “consent of the governed” and the foundation of a representative democracy. How can one be confident that the government represents all people if only 60 percent of us say what we think? Then, only 60 percent of Americans have a valid opinion because they documented their opinion through action. Even further, if one fails to uphold the essence of his or her citizenship, then are they not merely a subject to the nation?
What is so mind-boggling is that today is seems everyone has an opinion and is not afraid to express it. This is not a bad characteristic, but the consequences of technology’s influence in expressing opinions about politics is debilitating. Social media dilutes the impact of opinions. To expand further, people feel like they are helping the cause if they post on social media about a certain issue, but in the scheme of things, blog posts and the like are useless. Posts, in their own right, cannot create tangible change. Consequently, the level where people feel like they are actually helping has decreased dramatically. The result of such an alteration in our psyche is the creation of an environment where saying something is more impactful than doing something. It is necessary for this environment to be eliminated if we as a society want real change to happen. Today, it is easier to speak and be heard, but it is more difficult to act and see results.
There is no logic in the idea that an individual can hold an opinion and live in a country where they can express that opinion at the ballot box, yet they seldom exercise that right – a right that thousands of people have died for in order for U.S. citizens to have. We habitually take this for granted. Not only that, but Americans tend to complain and criticize the government’s actions even though they themselves consciously exclude their voice from the discussion. Therefore, a precedent must exist in our deliberation insofar that for anyone of voting age (18+) must cast a ballot in order for their opinion to be considered valid. It is not only one’s right but one’s civic duty to exercise the right to vote. To ignore the importance of the right to vote is to ignore history, and to ignore history is to be ignorant.
We have forgotten the cliché, yet essential phrase of “actions speak louder than words.” It is unfortunate that people believe their vote does not count or that politics is a waste of time. This could not be farther from the truth. What happens in government and who has say over the distribution of the federal and state budgets impacts our everyday lives whether one cares to acknowledge it or not. Unfortunately, the American electorate is no better than the politicians it constantly criticizes: all talk, no action.