In less than a year, American citizens will vote to determine who will be the next president of the United States, who will comprise one-third of the Senate, and who will sit on the House of Representatives. In a time of immense political cynicism, centered predominantly on the economy, this seems like an opportunity to elect politicians that represent America’s interests. To take advantage of this occasion, citizens need to be cognitive of politicians’ positions—a task many American citizens cannot accomplish. In fact, political awareness is dangerously low, negatively affecting American democracy.
The truth is terrifying. Bill Clinton is recognized for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and Newt Gingrich is notorious for his three wives; however, few can categorize each for their respective political platforms. America is addicted to sensationalism—not politics. According to a Newsweek study, 29 percent of Americans cannot name the vice president of the United States, 44 percent cannot define the Bill of Rights, and over 70 percent cannot correctly identify their state’s senators. The evidence is irrefutable but the repercussions are less apparent.
The limited amount of people who are politically aware have more influence on the government, as evidence has shown that politically conscious people are more likely to participate in elections and effectively advocate for their interests through political action. It is important to examine, then, which Americans are politically well informed. The answer: white, affluent males. This means that those who are less politically informed—minorities, women, young adults, and the poor—are less likely to have their interests represented in government solely because they are not educated concerning political issues.
What does this mean for the 2012 election and its political aftermath? If political awareness does not increase—across all sexes, socioeconomic statuses, and races—policies are unlikely to change. Those who are currently benefiting from the political system will continue to benefit; those who are currently disadvantaged from the political system will continue to be disadvantaged. The infamous success for the richest Americans will increase exponentially, as they will continue to successfully lobby for their political interests. American politics will remain stagnant and the immense political cynicism among average Americans will thrive, regardless of what party wins the elections,
Unfortunately, those who lack political proficiency struggle to obtain meaningful information. News sources present controversies—not policies. If people rely only on news sources, nothing will change. People will know in detail Mitt Romney’s tax rate but not his tax policies. People will speculate Barack Obama’s citizenship but they will not know his foreign policy stance. People will remain unable to affect policy, as they still won’t understand it.
The only way to change government is to understand it first. The politically ignorant have a daunting task, but an important one: to learn policies before the election, as it is the only way they will truly be represented. The best and longest lasting form of political action is political education.