Can I really Make a Difference? How Average Citizens Can Participate in the Democratic Process

Photo By Fotolia/mangostock- https://www.utne.com/community/civic-engagement-ze0z1311zpit


Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Many people in the United States express apathy, disinterest and disillusionment with the political process. This mindset translates to the ballot box on election day. Voter turnout usually has never gone above 45% in presidential elections. Many citizens have the mindset of “What is the use?” and “My vote doesn’t count anyway?” or “Why should I waste my time, those politicians do not care about me anyway?” However, these responses are often rooted in the fact that many people do not understand the power that they have as individual citizens in a democracy to bring about change. This can often be attributed to misunderstandings and some misinformation about the political process. Indeed, we have stated before that one of the hallmarks of a successful democracy is an educated citizenry.

Learning Resources on Citizenship and Civic Participation
In light of educating citizens, please go to a previous article we have written in terms of the importance of being involved in local elections and even participating in off-year elections. Also, here is a resource from I-Civics that teaches people about citizenship and participation. It is a group of lessons that educates people on “what it means to be a U.S. citizen and how citizenship is obtained. Learners will compare and contrast personal and political rights with social responsibilities and personal duties. Learners will explore global citizenship, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens in other countries. They will also learn about community engagement by selecting a problem of their own and creating a plan to solve it.”

Discussion Questions:

1. Often people think of youth under the age of eighteen as being too young to be involved in civic engagement and participation. How can teachers get their students in elementary, middle school or high school involved in civics and the political process before they are old enough to vote?

2. At what age were you when you were first involved in the political process? What factors encouraged or hindered you from voting and/or getting involved in other ways?

3. After going through some of the resources above, what are ways that you can be involved in the local political process? What are ways you can get involved that take place away from the ballot box? 

12 Comments

  1. This post is very interesting as it applies so directly to issues facing both parties on election day and poses the question: How do we encourage people to vote? I believe that most of people’s unwillingness to vote lies in the fact that most people who do not care about politics to begin with, don’t see themselves in politicians, believe that nothing can be done about issues facing them, and have become distanced from certain party ideas. It is no secret that both the Republican and Democrat parties have become extremely polarizing. Most voters don’t align or see themselves with every idea within a party and due to the current political climate this can be extremely disheartening. However, it is the same parties that need to work to make sure that voters believe in the issues that will be affected at the ballot box– because they are.

    Teachers also have a unique opportunity to encourage voting to students and educate them on the importance of voting and the impact they can have as students. High School teachers can have voter registration days, educate students on the importance of voting, hold mock elections, and help students identify with those on the ballot. Most people do not understand the power their vote holds because they have only held negative ideas surrounding voting and part of that responsibility falls on educators to help encourage voting.

  2. I love this article. For a class assignment me and my group decided to base our lesson plan on this article. I thought it would give the students a since of their purpose and how every vote really does count. The links that are connected in this article are so useful and just as information as the article itself. Also as a future educator their also being games to play that regard the topic could be a good way to build their interest in more ways than just reading and applying it to their own life.

  3. This is a great topic to think about. IF all of the people who tell me their vote does not count voted, elections and this country would look very different. I try to tell people every vote counts because in all reality they truly do every voice counts and must be heard.

  4. This article was a very interesting twist on the question often faced by civics educators. Voting is what keeps a democracy going and if you want to see change you should vote in local, state, and presidential elections. If Americans do not vote the democracy is not truly representative and that is when citizens do not feel as though their voices are heard.

  5. This article is a very relevant topic where a lot of people around the country feel as if there individual votes do not matter. I think if more people were educated on the electoral process then the outcomes in elections would be vastly different. As a future educator we have to do a better job teaching students about how big of a responsibility it is to vote in elections.

  6. This article should be so important to every social studies teacher today. With that low of a voter turnout we need to raise the next generation to be passionate about their ability to serve their country. I also love this article because it specifies the importance in being active for yourself and to share your voice.

  7. I think this is especially relevant given the backdrop of the 2016 election. Not only is there a sense of voter apathy in general, but I also think it’s worth considering that individuals simply don’t find the process favors their views. For example, many non-voters described their disinterest in either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, with the act of refusing to vote being done as a protest against a perceived failure of the system. This sense, combined with the idea that votes have no power in of themselves, can certainly contribute to a lack of turnout. This article is effective in pointing out how powerful citizens can be when educated and united. It’s important to know how the process works and how one can use it beneficially.

  8. Thinking that your vote does not count in a representative democracy is one of the most damaging things to our form of government. A persons vote is their fundamental way to express their own opinion in the most powerful way they can. I think that in future years we will see a much higher voter turnout because of the recent focus on it.

  9. As someone who is active in politics, I have always put an innate value on voting. I have been involved in political issues since 2014, with the Ferguson protests against police brutality. This was the first time I truly saw injustice in America at an age where I really understood it. At this time I couldn’t vote and had to use my voice in different ways but now, as a registered voter, I see how important voting is. I am someone who was involved in politics before even being given the right to vote so I really understand the importance of it and the difference it makes — even just intrinsically. Being a woman, I am grateful for the right to vote as I know many women before me fought long and hard for this. Knowing history and the American history of disenfranchisement against many groups of peoples, I am obligated to vote for all those who never could. What better way to take action than with my voice and my vote. Its mind blowing to see that in the United States voter turnout, even in the presidential election, doesn’t go above 45%. This means most Americans don’t vote! And few place importance in local or off-year elections as mentioned in the article. I think this is a failing of our education system as it can be argued that local or state elections are even more important and impactful than the presidential election but people don’t understand this due to ignorance. I can introduce my students to voting through civics education and resources such as iCivic that educate on every step of the voting process and system. I will also teach them about ways to get involved in politics that are not voting, like I had to do at 16. This can be anything from writing senators, signing petitions, educating others, joining activists networks, protesting, etc.

  10. I don’t think people realize how important their vote actually is. Being a student, we never were really talked to about voting or educated on it and I think that’s one of the reasons why citizens don’t think their vote matters or that it affects anything. Lately, there has been more of a spotlight on voting so hopefully people are starting to realize why it’s needed.

  11. With the voter turnout usually only capping at 45%, it is rather discouraging and easy to say, “there is not point in trying”. This is is why you should go out and vote! You don’t agree with the political happenings and want change? Try to be the change- vote, make a petition, sit in on a council meeting, get involved. It is our duty as active citizens to be just that- active. Our future is in your hands, and that is a responsibility that you cannot escape from.
    With a democratic election coming up that is dividing the entire country, it may seem daunting to pick a stance, but you need to ask yourself, “what do I want to see in the next five, ten, twenty years?”. Don’t know what party or candidate you align with? Are you not even sure what your own opinion is? Dig. I don’t mean ask your friends or family what they think and base your whole opinion around that but look for answers to your questions. Take some time to think about what you want to see from those who lead our communities and country.
    Just know, you don’t have to be like Leslie Knope and have an opinion for everything, but just take some time to figure out your core beliefs (it’s okay if they change). You won’t be able to figure out everything all at once and that is okay too. You can start off as small or as big as you want but remember this: your voice matters.

  12. The reason I chose to read this article is because I am usually one who asks the question, “Can I really make a difference?”, especially when it comes to an election. Since learning about the electoral college, I have not fully understood the need for U.S citizens to vote (especially in presidential elections). This blog post started to help me see otherwise! It makes total sense that, as the blog stated, the main problem here is lack of educated citizenry. If I would take the time to learn about how everything truly works in an election, I am sure I would be much less hesitant to participate. I hope that as a teacher of young people, I can readily prepare them to be well equipped and informed citizens who get excited about participating in their government.

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