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/