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John Wayne's Holster: The Sad State of the American Electorate
John Wayne's Holster
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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Sad State of the American Electorate

I Know Nothing

During a speech at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication last week, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite stated that "[Americans] are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting [their] leaders." Although I don’t typically agree with Cronkite, I think he is on to something here.

Most Americans are too busy or too distracted to learn much about the political issues that effectively shape and direct their lives. They seem to be more interested in material pursuits and frivolous entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, everyone deserves to kick back and enjoy themselves once in awhile, but most Americans have become inebriated with self-indulgence. Knock!-knock!-knock! Hello. The 60's are over!

To many, political issues only become important in the month or two prior to a national election. And then, only superficially so. The typical member of the electorate informs himself about the issues much in the same way a hard-partying frat boy crams the night before his final exams. Most voters are content to know their candidate’s position on an issue - whether he or she is "for it" or "against it". They pay little or no attention to the candidate’s policy on that particular issue. Is their policy realistic? Will it work? What are the alternatives? Is it consistent with one's political ideology? What will it cost? And where will the money come from?

Apparently those details are unimportant! After all, in our fast-paced culture of instant gratification, who has time for the nitty-gritties?

In the 2000 National Election Study, participants were asked 31 basic questions about the political process and the issues of the day. One-third of the participants had scores that were not significantly different from that expected by random guessing!

According to the Cato Institute, the majority of the electorate do not know the basic structure of the government and how it operates. When it comes to the issues, they are just as clueless. Although most were aware of the federal budget deficit, almost 60% believe that domestic spending has not made any significant contribution to that deficit.

The electorate also appears to be ignorant of just who it was they actually voted into office. Data gathered by the 2002 National Election Study showed that more than two-thirds of registered voters did not know which party currently controls the House of Representatives. And almost 70% could not name either of their state’s Senators.

How can a democracy function this way?

A substantial portion of the electorate are emulating Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame – they are “know-nothings”. When the electorate is not adequately informed, the government will not accurately reflect the will of the people. In addition, the electorate becomes susceptible to manipulation by agenda-driven agents who are striving to get "their candidate" elected. The regurgitation of party talking points and the spate of so-called 527 ads prior to the recent presidential campaigns illustrates this point quite nicely.

As Walter Cronkite himself has stated, “our democracy, our republic…is in serious danger.”


At 11:35 AM, Anonymous bigwhitehat said...

I think you and Walter need a current events lesson.

Consider the event of our last presidential election. The media did all that they could, including falsifying documents, to sway the, "masses." But, the people were wise. They didn't buy it. I think the American voter is smarter than Cronkite will ever admit.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Hi Bigwhitehat, thanks for the comments.

I would agree that there is a portion of the electorate that is well informed. But most are not. 70% of registered voters don't know EITHER of their state's senators. Most have not read either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

I have read some of your post and your replies on Beast7's blog. You seem to me to be well informed. I imagine that you associate with others who are also well informed. But most people are not like you! Many still vote for candidates that promise to give them benefits from the treasury. These are the same people that turn around and complain about high taxes and our current budget deficit.

Consider the following rhetorical questions. How many people don't understand the connection between Iraq and the war on terror? How many people don't understand why opening the borders to perscriptions drugs undercuts their ability their ability to contine to get new promising drugs? How many people don't understand why our immigration policies are a threat to our security? How many don't understand why disproportionately taxing the so-called "rich" is bad for our economy? How many don't understand how judicial activism short-circuits the balance of powers of the govt? I could go on....

My guess is that you probably know the answers to these questions, but sadly many voters do not.

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, I enjoy your blog and agree w/ the post. The problem is that most of us don't have the time or inclination to keep our eyes on the people we elect to office. Most of us have a decent commute, work a long day, go home, play with the kids, make love with the wife, etc...KQ!


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