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

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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? 

3 Comments

  1. There is so many people from my generation that choose not to vote because they do not care to or do. It think their vote will make a difference. They are not interested in the politics now which is why they do not vote. I am a register vote because it is my right and obligation as a citizen. I get to vote in local elections/state wide and also Nation wide.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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