Many years ago, during a “Rock the Vote” television commercial campaign attempting to get people to the polls, I remember actor Leonardo DiCaprio, saying: “Get out and vote. Hey, it’s easy.” Now, while driving or walking to your local polling place, waiting in it’s line and pulling a lever or pushing a button might not be too taxing on an individual, I would argue that much more than these simple motions goes into the voting process, and that being an informed voter, as all voters should be, is quite a demanding process.
So, how well informed is the average American voter? It turns out, not very. A 2018 survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only around a third of Americans would pass the citizenship test given to immigrants – a test which only requires a passing grade of 60%. The same survey found that less than half of Americans knew how many justices sat on the Supreme Court. Most disturbing for the future is the fact that only 19% of Americans under the age of 45 passed the citizenship test according to the survey.
A 2014 Department of Education assessment of civic understanding by American school-age kids discovered large swaths of ignorance. Only 1 in 10 understood the checks and balances between the three branches of government. The assessment also found only 23% of students to be proficient in civics and just 18% were proficient in history.
An Annenberg survey in 2017 found that 37% of American students couldn’t name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment and only 26% could name all three branches of government.
College educated students did little better. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute tested college graduates’ knowledge of American civics and history. The average score was an “F”. Coming in at 57%, the score was not much better than the overall population, which scored 49%.
With a voting population so seemingly ignorant of the basics of our own government, how could they possibly be expected to understand more complicated issues of economic theory or international affairs? Is it any wonder the results we get from our elected officials. As of September of this year, the approval rate for the United States Congress stood at a record low of just 17%. Should we be surprised? Should we expect any different from an electorate as ignorant as ours? We get what we deserve. Is it any wonder why we are stuck voting for the two boobs we see plastered in commercials during the breaks of our favorite television shows?
Our public schools should be ashamed of themselves turning out a citizenry so woefully ignorant of civics and history. But, maybe it’s by design. They are, of course, run by government. With our heads in the sand, they can get away with all manner of sneakthievery.
Too many people, I fear, make their voting selections based on superficial considerations like manner, good looks or popularity, as if they were still voting for class homecoming king or queen. Many people also likely make up their minds based on little more than broad generalizations like: “I’m one of the little guys – and I’m told this political party is for the little guy.” or, “My faith in God is strong, so I’m told I should vote for this political party.” Perhaps they vote how their parents always voted or how their communities, friends and neighbors tend to vote. Maybe they just feel that a candidate is good or bad, as if they could know a politician by the public persona they put on. This is not good enough. The stakes are too damn high.
So, is it you who are ignorant or is it all the other voters? If you are unversed in any of the following ten basic questions, perhaps you should reconsider voting in this week’s election.
- What is the difference between a Democracy & a Republic. (A voter should know their own government at it’s most basic level.)
- What is the difference between a deficit and a debt.
- How much debt does the United States owe?
- What does the United States pay each year in interest on that debt?
- What is the difference between a flat and a progressive tax?
- How many wars is the United States currently engaged in?
- Where are those wars?
- Which branch of government has the power to declare war?
- What is Federalism?
- What is the difference between a negative right & a positive right?
These are nonpartisan questions that can be learned through even a mild habit of reading a newspaper (Well, maybe not USA Today. I suggest the Wall Street Journal). If these ten questions made you scratch your head, perhaps you should stay home this Tuesday. After all, you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car without knowing what the painted lines in the road mean or how to turn on your headlights. Your actions would be too dangerous.