A middle-aged man answered the door.
“Hello sir,” I said. “My name’s Nathan and I’m here to talk to you about the upcoming election on Nov. 2…”
“Election? What election? We have an election this year?” he replied.
“Haha. Good one,” I said. He stared at me with a confused “What kind of a-hole are you?” look on his face.
I had a hard time believing he was serious, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised given the general apathy most of us have toward our democracy. My experience canvassing in Johnson County, Kan., a relatively affluent area with a high percentage of college graduates, only confirmed this.
It would be nearly impossible to find a student at UMKC (or any school) who hasn’t seen an episode of “Jersey Shore” or “The Real World,” but finding one who can’t name the governor of Missouri wouldn’t be difficult.
Repeatedly, studies concluded by the American Civic Literacy Report, a subsidiary of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, have shown only a slight majority of Americans know which party is in control of the senate, and 70 percent cannot name their state’s two senators (if they even know that their state has two senators). Fewer than half of all Americans can correctly identify the three branches of government.
Other studies have shown even college graduates lack significant knowledge of the Constitution and political process. Only 54 percent of the college graduates surveyed by the American Civic Literacy Report could correctly identify a basic description of a free enterprise system, and only 24 percent knew that the First Amendment prohibited establishing a state religion.
What floors me is while political ignorance is considered acceptable, cultural ignorance is frowned upon.
You’re sheltered if you don’t know who Lindsay Lohan is, but if Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Robert Gates, David Petraeus and Eric Holder are names that elude you, it’s okay- you’re one of many… but at least Snooki knew Obama passed a tax on artificial tanning!
I’m sure everyone has heard the familiar “Let’s get out the vote” blather, but one must wonder what voting accomplishes in a society in which the vast majority of eligible voters don’t vote and many who do are often misinformed or uninformed.
In order for a democracy to work, people must do more than simply vote. We must make an informed decision, which includes developing an understanding of the operating principles on which this country was founded. We must know how our government and political processes work and where candidates stand on issues that matter to us.
If people voted for Barack Obama because they thought they would no longer “have to pay for their gas and mortgage” after his election, as one Florida woman stated, or for John McCain because they incorrectly believed Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim, then clearly we have a problem.
This election, we must reverse the trend of voter ignorance.
Don’t just watch the ads. County election websites are a good place to go to find out who’s running for office. Most candidates also have their own websites, which are good for gathering basic, though propagandized, information.
Voting records are a good way to see whether or not a candidate has actually lived up to their word and can be found on non-partisan websites like www.votesmart.org.