The Effect of Ill-Informed Voters on American Democracy

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American Democracy, although believed to be an immaculate form of government, has its flaws. Complications relating to this form of government can in fact rise from its citizens — ill-informed voters. These citizens are oblivious in their government. Ill-informed voters are citizens who are unaware of what is happening in the government and end up voting based on popularity or other personal reasons. They are often ignorant self-proclaimed “patriots” who ironically, do not devote their time to the ongoing political trends which vary day by day. Overall, ill-informed voters have a large impact on the outcomes of elections by which can consequently lead to complications in the government. The effect of Ill-informed voters, often ill-informed due to lack of education or because of their ethnicity; has been present throughout history and is now present in our economy; if no solution is presented to this increasing problem they will have an irreversible impact on the future of democracy and government. Since the beginning of our democracy, there has been a question of how democracy will thrive without informed voters. For instance, Thomas Jefferson made an important statement about the nature of democracy that is outlined in an article, “If Democracies Need Informed Voters, How Can They Thrive While Expanding Enfranchisement” by Jennifer Hochschild, a Professor of Government at Harvard University, “Thomas Jefferson prescribed 'two great measures,... without which no republic can maintain itself in strength:

  1. 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.
  2. 2. To divide every county... [so] that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it' (Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1810, in Jefferson, 1903-04, v. 12, p. 393)” (Hochschild 2).

Thomas Jefferson gives two great conditions for a successful democracy, first being that every voter should be educated enough to know how they should be ruled, and the second being that children should all have access to education to cultivate themselves to be contributors to voting and therefore society. These requirements for democracy are important for people to make informed decisions about their government. The founding fathers reasoning behind this was to make sure their attempts to revolt against a tyrannical government wouldn’t be for naught. Furthermore, Alan Taylor, a writer for The American Scholar mentions in his article, “The Virtue of an Educated Voter”, “American leaders worried that their imperial neighbors--French, Spanish, and especially British--would exploit the new nation's internal tensions to break up the tenuous union of the states. Poorly educated voters might also elect reckless demagogues who would appeal to class resentments and promote the violent redistribution of wealth. John Adams warned the people, ‘When a favourable conjuncture has presented, some of the most intriguing and powerful citizens have conceived the design of enslaving their country, and building their own greatness on its ruins” (Taylor). The founders of America were convinced that voters who did not have a firm grasp of the issues in government would lead to the ultimate downfall of the country. In order for a democracy to thrive, the nation’s citizens taking part in voting must be educated on how government works. However, this presents a problem in our democracy of how all voters can be correctly educated. In the past, the solutions to this involved disenfranchising uneducated people who were most likely minorities. Hochschild also mentions this in her article, “Some proposed literacy tests for the suffrage, on the grounds that “persons wholly destitute of education do not possess sufficient intelligence to enable them to exercise the right of suffrage beneficially to the public.”(Hochschild 4). Literacy tests were eventually deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that it targeted minorities who never received a proper education. Invariably attempts to control the voting population to educated citizens contradicted democracy and ultimately disenfranchised people of lower socioeconomic status. On the other hand enfranchising people who have a lower socioeconomic status comes with its own faults. The repercussions of allowing uninformed voters to participate in elections still have an effect on the government today.

The decisions ill-informed voters make have consequences — and one of the affected areas is the economy. Recently, in the 2016 presidential elections, controversial billionaire, Donald Trump, was elected as president — his voter demographics mainly consisted of rural-living caucasian with a large portion of those having high school education or less, 34% ( Pew Research Center). Although being involved in many controversies and scandals, Trump was still elected President via an electoral vote win. Consequently, Trump started a trade war with China last year in 2018, by setting tariffs and barriers. But, the trade war ended up hurting the US economy, contrary to the president’s beliefs. According to Business Insider, an American financial and business news website, the China-US trade war has actually had a negative economic impact. For example, there has been a decrease in jobs and exports. This year 30 thousand fewer jobs were added to the US economy than expected (Business Insider).

Additionally, exports have decreased, “China is one of the major trading partners of the US - meaning that exports have suffered massively because of the trade war. [In fact,] exports appear set to plunge” (Business Insider). Our economy encountered a menacing conflict in which can lead to a possible economic downfall. Ill-informed voters have an impact to the American economy by whom they elect in office. Moreover, most ill-informed voters are often affected by specific knowledge that they do not obtain.

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Although citizens do receive education, they may lack specific knowledge to become involved in politics. As declared by Llya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University, “Ignorance and stupidity are often conflated, but they are in fact two very different things. A smart person can still be ignorant of many things. No matter how smart we are, all of us are ignorant about the vast majority of the information out there,” (Somin). Disregarding the fact that citizens obtain knowledge, they are still susceptible to being oblivious in certain topics. As a result, politics may follow as one of the many topics, leading to a growth in the population of uninformed voters in the nation. Consequently, Somin proceeds to affirm, “If voters are poorly informed about government policy, they will often make poor decisions,” (Somin). Due to the lack of political knowledge, poorly informed citizens will make defective choices in which affects the country’s democracy. The outcomes of political events, such as elections, may be altered and not precise due to inefficient citizens as the government desires. This issue is identified profoundly concentrated in particular ethnic groups.

Ill-informed voters tend to be those of the minority populations. Latinos, which happen to be a solid population in the United States, fall victim to being ill-informed. As a matter of fact, the Latino community is likely to receive deficient exposure to politics. As declared by The Economist, 'Political scientists claim that individual characteristics such as educational attainment and income may explain why some Americans vote less often than others,' (Economist). Citizens of lower education and income tend not to be involved in their government. This being said, Latinos are an ethnic group that lies under the category as well as other citizens resulting in an absence of awareness in the political field. It may also result in a low turnout of voters. Moreover, Valeria Mena, a nineteen-year-old Latina studying at UC Santa Cruz, states, “Personally, my parents are undocumented, and because of that they’re unable to vote. We didn’t really have those kinds of conversations,” (Mena). Clearly, a first hand Latina explains that growing up as a minority in this nation leads to an omission of general political knowledge and even interest.

Such that this is the case for many children and citizens of this ethnic group when voting, these citizens may be treating elections with adequate significance that then is not a true democracy. In addition to what has been proclaimed, Mena proceeds by revealing, 'A good amount of people that I know that are Latinos... people don’t talk about these problems with them' (Mena). Parents and adults generally do not present ongoing political ideals to their children that happen to be the future of the nation, in which further elaborates on the leading factor for Latinos being oblivious in their government. Overall, this impacts our American Democracy in an unbeneficial manner. A fairly far-reaching group of citizens remain uninformed leading to possible unwell decisions or even may decide to not take part in their government in which continues through generations. This clearly affects the American Democracy as though all eligible citizens should vote for the growth and benefit of the country. This is not the main principle of our democracy.

Moreover, ill-informed voters will endanger our nation’s future through the substandard decisions in electing our government. In the future, we could avoid the downfall of our country due to poor decisions made by ill-informed voters. However, there are solutions to prevent this from happening, which include bettering our education systems about politics to our minorities. In the article, “Civics Education Helps Create Young Voters and Activists,” written by Alia Wong, an award-winning journalist that specializes in writing about education and family topics, writes, “Middle school is also a time in students’ educational trajectory that is better structured for such education than later stages, when school becomes broken down into more distinct disciplines that make it difficult to integrate this kind of instruction seamlessly, says Kawashima-Ginsberg.

And kids at this age undergo dramatic developmental and intellectual changes that render them particularly ripe for understanding the importance of civics,” (Wong). In other words, Wong implies a solution to decrease the amount of ill-informed voters by giving middle school students lessons about government. Improving our minority’s education about our political system will decrease the chances of poor decisions in the future for our country. In reality, our minorities are what represent us in the future and guide our country to the fullest potential. To add on, minorities can have a major impact on their society. As revealed by Matt A. Barreto, professor of political science at UCLA, 'Latinos in this region have low rates of voting, not because they don't care about politics, but because they have been systematically excluded and never welcomed with open arms into the political system,' (Barreto). Latinos have been excluded from the political system. As mentioned previously, a byproduct of lacking knowledge can lead to not participating as well. Yet a proposed solution to such issues benefiting specifically the Latino community is stated by The Economist, in the article 'Why Don't Latinos Vote?'. It is presented, 'The campaign is investing heavily in bilingual advertising, and uses Spanish-speaking canvassers to spread its messages. Such choices may have a big impact on Hispanic turnout, especially in areas where residents live with undocumented friends and family,' (The Economist). It is proposed to campaign in the language of Latinos; Spanish.

This would result in an increased interest in the Latino community as well as a possible increase in comprehension towards the citizens. Similarly, educating younger generations would have a great impact on voter knowledge. A free public app could be created that allows for anyone to educate them on government structure and current events. Since, most youths spend lots of time on their devices, spending their time educating themselves, via using the app, would create a more educated youth. Although, this solution would only be appealing to younger generations, such as, millennials and gen z, they are the future and it is important to give them a medium to interact and be part of the future of government. Furthermore, another solution would be to implement a test that measures common sense in political scenarios to determine a voter's eligibility. The test will consist of 7 randomly selected past scenarios, such as: “A recession during the war has occurred. The following officials propose such solutions. Which proposal would you vote for?” If you vote for the proposal that fixed that situation, you will get that scenario correct. To pass the test you will need to get at least 4 scenarios correct. This type of test wouldn’t be unconstitutional because it does not discriminate by age, race, or gender. It also does not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which banned literacy tests that evaluated people's level of education because this type of test will not target people’s literacy but instead their practicality.

Ultimately, ill-informed voters have created a huge impact on the American Democratic system, a phenomenon occurring throughout the years. It has then lead to affecting the economy as well. Yet some citizens are not all at fault. This is due to influences at young ages that follow them throughout their lifetime which is then passed down to our future generations having an effect in the government. Consequently leading to a disregard of the foundations of democratic ideals. If the issue continues to expand, consequences will worsen. Henceforth, as Americans, countrymen, we should live up to the democratic principles in which were so proudly founded for this nation and make sure that we all can fairly partition in the government.

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