The Importance of Politics

Olivia O'Donnell, Columnist

    “Yale, where do you stand?” the stark white letters brazenly read.

     Unlike the various other posters hung one after another on a noticeboard at the university’s campus, this perfervid question demanded to be viewed. While posted in 2015 in response to racial intolerance exhibited by students and faculty/administrators, the momentum of such a query has not slowed–instead injecting itself into conversations beyond Yale’s borders.

    Throughout the U.S. research centers have consistently demonstrated the political ignorance of American voters. A 2016 survey from University of Pennsylvania’s Annenburg Public Policy Center showed that 31% of Americans cannot name the three branches of government; a 2012 report done by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ATCA, declared that less than 20% of American college graduates could identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. On the global scale, Pew Research Center determined that only 37% of participants knew the name of the recently-elected President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

    At face value, it may seem insignificant that most Americans cannot recite the words ‘legislative’, ‘judicial’, and ‘executive’ without utilizing their Google search engine. However, after further inspection it is clear that these statistics signify something far worse than failing to recognize a few facts–they shed light on the pervasive problem of civic illiteracy and disempowerment.  

    In an interview with a Forbes writer, Professor and author Ilya Somin addressed this indisputable issue, “No one survey question is all that important by itself. What matters far more is the cumulative weight of widespread political ignorance across a wide range of issues… the fact that most people do not know is a strong indication of their ignorance about politics and public policy generally.”

    He continued, “While political ignorance is often rational behavior for individuals, it can lead to terrible collective outcomes. It does not matter much if any one voter is ignorant, but it does matter if we have an entire electorate that is that way.”

    Widespread voter ignorance continues to serve as a detriment to our democracy; when people fail to educate themselves, they strip themselves of their power and cause harm to all people who suffer from the consequences of their decisions. Thus, voter education is necessary to combat the inevitably poor decisions made by uninformed voters. Understanding governmental policies, foundations, and views opposite of one’s own provide a holistic approach to determining who gets one’s vote or when one should reach out to his or her local representative to oppose this or that bill. Picking a candidate is like label-checking an item of food: if a bag of chips contains garbage, 0% intellect, and the idiocy to start World War III, would you eat it? Probably not. So why pick a candidate with this ingredient list?

    Still, whether or not one can vote should not stop one from staying informed. While voting can provide the opportunity to exercise one’s knowledge, it should not be the reason anyone refrains from understanding current events. Everyone has the power to stimulate change, especially through knowledge accumulated from multiple perspectives. All people should possess political consciousness to avoid inflicting ignorance unto others. Where do you stand?