Muller posits that, in order to hold an accountable government, “it is crucial that citizens be well informed about politics” . There is a common sense truth to this statement. A democracy is, after all, an “arrangement [of institutions]…which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide the issues through the election of individuals” . In order to have a democracy then, it makes sense that the people need to know what the common good is; and also that they actively participate to ensure this will is achieved through the election of political leaders. If the populace becomes inactive, or uninformed of either the common good or those that can deliver on this will, then the governmental body no longer has a will to be representative of. In other words, if a majority of the population is not participating, then it is less likely their views will be represented properly and the government can look much more like an oligarchy than a democracy. But are citizens in the United States informed enough to keep the democracy intact? Or else, what is keeping the democracy afloat, especially with two parties that have differing opinions of what may be the common good?
A Harvard professor proposed that the “expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote.” As people gain the right to vote, there comes a wider range of opinions on the common will, with more debate, discussion, studies, and other lengthy processes that slow down or disrupt the government. Essentially, this creates a paradox in the United States. The government exists to be as representative as possible of all citizens, but with increased voting rights comes a reduction in the quality and efficiency of decision making, as well as an overall decrease in an accurately-informed population.
Another article, in Forbes, compared this process to that of pollution. The average person may feel they have an insignificant role in politics and therefore choose to be ignorant towards politics. After all, when you think of the impact of one vote among hundreds of millions, you do not find much significance. But, like pollution, “one gas-guzzling car makes little difference, but thousands or millions of them could potentially cause great harm to the environment.” Many people choose to be politically ignorant, to not participate in election processes, and to lower the overall political knowledge of the population. But now we are left in a society with extreme polarization, a somewhat apathetic population towards politics, a declining support rate for democracy, and seemingly low quality of government.
To answer this problem and how it relates to what is happening in the modern era, it is helpful to examine how enfranchisement has expanded in the United States, as well as how this has impacted the quality of government here. Originally the ability to vote was “almost exclusively available to white, property-owning Protestant men.” Over time this expanded to give voting rights to all citizens regardless of race, gender, religion, etc. It makes sense that this would lower the average education level of all voters like the Harvard article suggests because, expanding voting rights, by nature, grants this right to those that did not have equal access to information or participation in the voting process. In other words, if we assigned a random value of “education level” to the white, property-owning Protestant men (say 75%), and we know the average level of education in those newly granted voting rights is less than 75%; the new average, once both groups are combined, mathematically has to be less than 75%. So overall, if increasing enfranchisement decreases the average level of political education, then the quality of government should go down with it, or at least its ability to be well representative.
So there must be an explanation for why a less-informed citizenry can still exist successfully in a democracy, as it has regardless of increasing enfranchisement in the United States. Mr. Justice Holmes once stated “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” . Opinions and political preferences change, like the Constitution, with time and debate. As much as one can dislike a differing opinion, without it, no change would be made. Even worse, “if everyone was passionately and knowledgeably engaged with the issues, the losing party would not grant legitimacy to electoral results or to controversial legislative or judicial decisions,” due to an inability to engage in Holmes’ marketplace of ideas . There is some need for the politically ignorant to promote discourse, to bring voice to differing opinions, and to allow a peaceful transition of power between the parties come election time.
http://paxonbothhouses.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-founding-fathers-and-informed.html , quote by Thomas Jefferson
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