The main feature of democracy is the power of the people. Every citizen has the right to vote and chose his representatives in the government. It is written in the constitutions of hundreds of countries. However, such a right is often neglected by citizens of democratic states. The U.S. is not an exception since the rate of political participation is low there. There are many factors that cause low or high political participation in the U.S. Low political participation is the biggest threat to democracy since people ignore their main constitutional right.
Background and Factors
The history of political participation is not fluent. Beginning from World War II, the level of people’s participation in elections had raised much, especially during the last twelve years. In 1960, 63.8% of voters took part in the presidential elections as compared to the year 1948, where only 51.5% of the electorate voted for the president (U.S. Bureau of the Census). The situation is different as for the elections to the House of Representatives. Although the rate of political participation increased during the same period (from 37.6 percent in 1946 to 48.9 percent in 1962), it was still much lower than people’s participation in the presidential elections (U.S. Bureau of the Census). It is one of the biggest mistakes since voters do not understand that the significance of both President and Congress is equal since the U.S. political system is based on checks and balances. Therefore, the main reason for such inequality is citizens’ newness.
Political participation is the result of many factors, which influence people’s activity or passivity. The first factor is psychological or cognitive traits. Each individual has a sense of efficacy and civic responsibility. Sometimes, people are not aware of their importance and the opportunity to influence any political processes in the country. Hence, they think that their vote is not important. The second factor is a social environment, which involves education, occupation, neighbors, friends, and relatives. A person is always influenced by someone. The most common way of manipulating is education. Students are aware of political participation’s importance since they are taught it. In addition, those educated people impact their friends and relatives.
The third factor is the political environment. Political parties also play a very important role in the level of political participation. Candidates and political parties have to encourage people not only to vote for them but also to vote at all since the main reason for many failures is not the lack of supporters but the lack of voters. The next factor is the level of modernization and urbanization. Although those processes are not directly connected to political participation, they foster the extension of political communication. It leads to greater political awareness.
Another factor is political socialization. The problem is that people do not identify themselves as representatives or supporters of some political party. It is much easier to identify social values and political opinions if a person belongs to the party. The sixth factor is modes of participation. People’s participation in political processes can appear in different ways. Some political processes are directly connected with the electoral sub-system while others are associated with political activities. Voting and campaigning are the most important modes of participation. Voting is the most frequent political activity; it represents the most important rights of democratic state’s citizens. Political participation is not only about voting but also taking an active part in an electoral campaign.
Evolution and Types
The history of the United States is full of such crises as “the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the fight for women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and the Anti-Vietnam Movement” (Justis). Political participation increased much during times of crisis. It increased not only in the form of voting but also in other forms of participation (Justis). Therefore, those are the crucial periods in U.S. history, when citizens became more involved in political processes in their country. Although such crises were painful for society, they strengthened the public’s integrity and political participation.
Political participation is not only about voting. It has many different forms, and each person might participate in many of them. Here are four main types of political participation: voting, protest, public consultations, and jury duty. Voting is the most important part for every citizen in the democratic state since it “…ensures that politicians are elected by the people, rather than being assigned to their position of power by someone else” (White n.p.). The next important type is protests. In some countries, protests are a constitutional right while; in others – they are not (protests are allowed in the U.S.). Public protest is also a very important type of political participation since it is the direct way to show citizens’ disapproval of some government’s actions and, in addition, make the authorities aware of public interests.
Public consultations are another type of political participation. Sometimes, they are called time hall meetings (White n.p.). It is similar to voting since public consultations “…offer ordinary citizens the chance to get together in a group with a politician or elected official in order to make their opinions and feelings known” (White n.p.). Hence, it is a chance for every citizen to have his/her own opinion and implement it. The last but not least type of political participation is jury duty. Although visiting such places as courts is not a pleasure, citizens of democratic countries should do that due to two main reasons. Firstly, people have to ensure that suspected “people are judged by people like them” and not to allow “the outcome to depend only on a single person” (judge) (White n.p.). Secondly, all cases should be clear for the public so that citizens by their active participation can prevent bribes in the courts. There are also such types of political participation like “signing a petition, writing a letter to a public official, blogging about a political issue, donating money to a cause, volunteering for a campaign, joining an activist or interest group, holding a public official position, occupying a building in an act of protest, and even such a negative type as committing a terrorist act” (White n.p.).
There is also another classification of political participation types. It includes conventional and unconventional ones. The second one is not a traditional one. Many citizens do approve it for the violation of laws, especially when it comes to occupying buildings. This type is used when citizens are satisfied with the powers. Another type, a conventional form of political participation, is the calm expression of their desires. It can even be a demonstration to support the government.
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It is a well-known fact that recently presidential elections were held in the USA. It was a high-debated issue in all news, in every state, and even in foreign countries. Every political technologist and the political leader gave his estimation of each candidate and each party. The question “Who should be the next president?” touched every citizen. Both candidates and many non-political organizations called for active participation in presidential elections. Hence, the political environment in the country fostered citizens to vote and keep active in their political life.
Although elections are one of the most important types of political participation, American citizens ignore this civil duty. According to the predictions made by different political analysts, the rate of voters in the 2016 elections must have reached 60%, which is the record for the U.S. (Regan n.p.). However, those predictions did not come true. Only 58% of the electorate (the highest rate in Minnesota – 74.2% and the lowest in Hawaii with only 42.5% of voters) came to make their choice (U.S. Elections Project). It is higher than the rate in previous years.
The U.S. has one of the lowest political participation as compared to other developed countries. According to Pew Research Center, the U.S. is ranked thirty-first out of thirty five positions in the general rate of countries with voter turnout (Regan n.p.). Belgium is the country with the highest level of political participation – 87% (Regan n.p.). According to Global News, one of the main reasons for such a low voter turnout is the challenges of registering to vote (Scotti n.p.). Minnesota, the state with the highest voter turnout, has very simple for people rules of registering while some other states have more complicated systems.
Impact on Democracy
Democracy is the form of governing where every citizen has the right to choose his representatives. The U.S. has a very low percentage of political participation. Therefore, not every citizen in the country implements his beliefs and desires. A country that does not foster its citizens to take an active part in political processes cannot be called the democratic one. The choice of politicians and the choice of the president depends on the majority. Nevertheless, when only 50% or 60% make their choice, it is a minority rather than a majority’s choice.
Ignoring the right to vote, citizens may transmit the power of ruling the country to an unqualified candidate, which is a threat to democracy. It is better to choose no one rather than a bad candidate. It is opinion of many voters since they are satisfied with neither of the candidates. This is one of the biggest voters’ mistakes. They ignore their democratic right in pursuit of not choosing the wrong candidate. Nevertheless, even when two candidates do not represent voter’s opinion, one candidate is better than another. Hence, the choice should be made in any case.
Elections are the main feature of a democratic society. Low political participation influences elections very much. For instance, the party which manages to mobilize its supporters will win the elections. Sometimes, the party, which has more supporters and is believed to win the elections, loses it owing to low voter turnout. There are two parties in the U.S. with different values and beliefs. Last year, the power mainly belonged to Democrats while now Republicans are in majority. Almost all politicians and political analysts predicted Clinton’s winning. They all mistaken. This Democrat’s failure is owned by the party’s inability to mobilize voters. Clinton’s supporters ignored the elections while Trump’s supporters came to make their choice.
Republicans are more successful in gathering their voters together. According to Global News, “democrats tend to do well when there’s big voter turnout, so that could have helped” (Scotti n.p.). Although the voter turnout was high in comparison with the previous years, it was still low since not every citizen made his choice. Hence, the voter turnover influences not only democracy but also the public’s choice of a president (which is a surprise in 2016 for the whole world).
In summary, the main feature of democracy is the political participation of each citizen. There many factors that influence the political participation of the public such as political and social environment, political modes, and many others. Within the main types of political participation, there are voting, protest, public consultations, and jury duty. The presidential elections in 2016 had quite a high level of voter turnout – 58%. Low political participation influences democracy since not every citizen uses his main right. In addition, low turnout influenced the results of the election 2016 in the USA.