Shklar and Why Americans Don’t Vote

I was not able to say this in class so I am posting this here weeks later.

In class when we discussed Judith Shklar’s book American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, it got me thinking: do we as Americans not vote because citizenship is like a club? We do not vote because once voting is attained it loses its value immediately? This is an interesting argument, but one that I do not fully subscribe to.

Over the summer I had the pleasure of canvassing for Democratic candidates in neighborhoods all over the Phoenix area, six days a week, 8-10 hours a day; however, only about three-fourths of my time was spent canvassing. I also spent time registering voters in these neighborhoods because there were plenty of people eligible to vote, but a significant amount of people who were not registered. (And before someone jumps on my case, I willingly registered as many people who wished to be affiliated with the Republican party as I did people who wanted to be affiliated with the Democratic party) During my time canvassing I met many people and heard many ideas from them about politics in general; the people I want to highlight are those who were not registered to vote. In order to explain why I do not necessarily subscribe to Sklar’s argument, I am going to list off the most reasons I encountered from people who were not registered to vote and why that was.

1) I did not know how.

As I am not a professional, I cannot explain why this was the most common answer I heard. If I were to take an educated guess though, I would attest this to a lack of civic education. This may be anecdotal, but I encounter many people who are frighteningly unaware of who their civic leaders are and how the government works. Does this translate into people not voting? I think it is possible.

2) I am too busy, I just never got around to it.

I understand being busy. People have their own lives, they have kids, they work, etc. That is the only explanation I have and I do not really have a solution. I am in favor of making election day a national holiday, but if people are not registering they are still not voting. I do not know how more convenient I could have been, I was at their doorstep with the voter registration form and some told me they were still too busy. Should it be easier to register to vote? Maybe.

3) I have a general dissatisfaction with politics/government/current events.

This one especially baffled me. I was so upset with this election cycle and I was so concerned about the direction the Republican Party wanted this country to head towards that it inspired me to work harder to ensure my party wins as many elections as possible. I do not understand being so dissatisfied that one just shuts down and does not do anything. I can explain until I am blue in the face about why voting matters, but it was always to no avail.

The purpose of this blog post was to list off the reasons I heard while canvassing that people gave me as the reason they were not registered to vote. This experience is the reason why I am not so sure I believe Sklar’s argument. It is an interesting argument, but I think the reason for America’s staggeringly low voter turnout is more complicated than Sklar would have us believe. I welcome your own thoughts on why America does not vote.

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3 Responses to Shklar and Why Americans Don’t Vote

  1. reneucros says:

    You raise an interesting point but, honestly, I think people don’t vote because they are lazy and careless quite simply. If I’m hungry and incredibly busy, I will eventually make sure to make some time to eat, because I care about staying alive. If I really want to go on a trip to the Bahamas(assuming that I have the funds), even if I have to postpone requesting time off work until summer when I don’t have school, I will make it happen. It just depends on what people want to make an effort to make time for, and politics/voting is just not one of those things.
    What Shklar is saying is not that once you get the ability to vote then you no longer want to, what she is saying is that once you get the ability to vote it simply goes down in priority in your to-do list because you suddenly have the ability to choose rather than being oppressed. Now it has gone down so far in everybody’s priority list that people just don’t do anything. People seem to be stuck on the idea that “my vote won’t count in the big picture, so why should I bother?” and this is incredibly naive. They say that “an eye for an eye will make the world go blind” and the same applies to voting, if most people don’t vote because they believe it won’t make a difference, then we end up with what we have now. So many people say they hate both candidates and can’t believe that we ended up having to choose between a rock and a hard place(Hillary and Trump), but that is the fault of those who did not vote. Maybe it isn’t, but we will never know because only an unrepresentative sample has voted. It seems that voting is like Yelp, the app where you rate restaurants, or Rate My Professors, the website where students rate their professors. The only people who are writing reviews are those who feel strongly in a positive or negative way, no one from the middle of the spectrum. Therefore one can never really know what the truth is because the sample isn’t representative enough, yet we’re still stuck with the answers of those as the representative sample.

  2. Clopez says:

    I think the three points your offer are a commonly perceived view on voter apathy. However I think it might be interesting to view how Shklar and Stanton may have perceived this apathy and what it says about American culture today, Shklar addresses Stanton on her view on the right to vote: ” ‘To deny political equality is to rob the ostracized of self-respect’ ” (Shklar 59). Now if political equality is associated with self-respect in Stanton’s view and Americans today have a lack of desire to vote, and a vote is the very action that recognizes a citizen’s role/ existence in society, then possibly the apathy is rooted elsewhere. If citizens today do not recognize a vote as this essential role in political recognition, possibly self-respect in politics adjusted to another platform and voting is disconnected from Stanton’s “self-respect”.

  3. vassallucci says:

    Honestly, I really liked your post. I think it’s very interesting to share your own and real experience. I am not an American citizen, so I’d probably make some mistakes, don’t hesitate to correct me if necessary.
    I think what sould be highlighted before everything is the fact that the three elements you mentioned are perfectly linked. In my opinion, there are each connected by only one element: the lack of trust. I think that the lack of trust is the principal element which founds each democratic process, and this element, in the United States but also in numerous other countries, is weakening election by election.
    Citizens are not interested in politics anymore because they don’t see the point of being so. In my view, the first two reasons you mentioned just concerned a tiny part of the population, the real reason is for me the last one: citizens’ voices are not heard anymore, citizens are not listened by their representants anymore, the policies they want are not applied and all the promises made by politicians are less and less kept…
    Of course, all of this puts the topic of compulsory voting back on the table… As I could say previously in one of my article, I think that compulsory voting could appear as a temporary solution and could lead Amerizan citizens to go back towards ballot boxes, and rebuild progressively more and more trust before the politicians and them… In my opinion, abstentionism is a dangerous vicious circle that is only weakening the relation and the trust before the State and the citizens to the point of no return.

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