Voting Culture. A Mockery of Democracy?

Probably. And here’s why.


“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t really follow politics.”

“I don’t know. I don’t really have an opinion.”

“I don’t vote.”


“I’m so sorry, but my friend is waiting for me.”


After wading through the sea of Thursday-night traffic and parking on the third floor of a downtown Claremont Village parking structure, I was set to strike up some of the most disheartening political conversations of my life, snippets of which are noted above.

Several members of our media-journalism team and I embarked on a political information thermometer test. Our goal was to attend screenings and provide live coverage of the #GOPDebate in order to gauge and report the temperature, so to speak, of the political atmosphere among our college peers. In order to do so, we went into the surrounding Mt. SAC community and talked politics with locals.

We tweeted campaign updates and the highlights of our political conversations, like bread crumbs on a trail of cyber information, from different cities near our college. In our coverage of the event, we sought insight into the opinions of college students:

What do college students think about the candidates? How do they feel about Donald Trump running for president? What are their reactions to the fact that there are female contenders for the presidency?

We wanted to know. Thus, I found myself faced with the challenge of acquiring college students’ political opinions on a Thursday night of summer break — back when most questioned if Trump running was a joke, before the Bill passed to defund Planned Parenthood, and when it seemed politics might be taking progressive steps forward for women and education.

Being fairly outgoing and resourceful, the primary challenge was finding college students who were politically aware and informed enough to provide an opinion — not so much walking up to strangers and casually striking up a political conversation.

After passing by frozen yogurt, comic book and clothing shops, ignoring the dinner-time grumbles of my stomach and moving from stranger conversation to stranger conversation, I was eventually able to get three college students’ opinions: two against Donald Trump and one in favor of him for the mere fact that he was not a “typical politician.” I tweeted the much sought gems of information as follows:

“I don’t think Trump should be running for president due to his racist remarks about Mexicans.” — Josue, Mt. SAC, engineering major.

“Trump is only running as an ego booster…the further he goes, the more egotistical he becomes.” — Sam Jardine, LSU, international trade and politics major.

“I like Trump because he is a cowboy…he’s unlike any other candidate; he has potential.” — Angel, University of Arizona, mathematics major.

Initially satisfied — and admittedly priding myself slightly with having accomplished the mission objective, I felt satisfied enough to grab a bite to eat, but as I dipped my golden Red Robin steak fries into my favorite Campfire dipping sauce, I began to swallow the fact that I was bothered by the responses of my peers.

Was that it? Were superficially formed opinions really all that students had to say on the matter of politics? Didn’t they see that this presidential campaign has many historical firsts?

Being inclined towards introspection and over-analyzing things as if my mind holds all the deep insight I need if I only think long and hard enough, I decided it was a comfortable time — golden steak fries in hand — to metaphorically chew over the events and ideas of the day.

Dip. Chomp. Trump? Chew, chew, chew. Dip. Chomp. Don’t vote? Sip water: ice slopes forward and back; lemon-wedge gets marooned on ice. Why didn’t they comment about the women running for president? Chew, chew, chew.

And so went my thought process, questioning without solid directions for answers, until I ran out of fries, ordered more — since they are bottomless — and eventually tired of chewing and thinking in circles.

At the time, I optimistically concluded the following.

College students do not care about politics.

I’d dare to go even further and make the claim that people in general— the average Joes and Janes of the USA who lack political ambition — do not care about politics. While this may be unsurprising in some regards, it does beg the question of “Why not?”

Here, I had encountered the young, the educated, the future of the nation — at least, that’s what my elders and the lyrics “I believe that children are the future” from Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” had taught me growing up — why wouldn’t they, the children turned adults, care about politics, the future of Democracy?

Could it be a problem of selfishness?

While it seems accepted truth that human nature contains a certain built-in degree of selfishness, the idea of democracy is predicated on ideals of the greater good. After all, the many are supposed to power-check the few elected to be in positions of governance.

The problem of modern day democracy is that people have largely forgotten that it is in their best interests to be selfish when it comes to their government.

Democracy, in fact, counts on its citizenry caring about the procedures as well as the people in power because it influences their lives.

Could it be that people don’t care enough?

Cue the TV images of third-world children without shoes and sad puppy slide-show with the vocal-styling of Sarah McLachlan, then the laugh of popular animated character, Peter Griffin from the satirical show Family Guy to interrupt the guilt-tugging ballot intended to inspire the emptying of wallets into questionable donation campaigns.

The problem is not simply that people do not care about the issues facing the greater human population. Issues like poverty, famine, and homelessness do trouble the majority of the population with an active conscience.

The problem is that people trend towards laziness and prefer their heart-wrenching social issues presented in satirical format.

Meanwhile, solutions to big social problems are not clearly identified, and the steps to solving these major concerns appear too complex and out of reach — beyond the convenient grasp of our phones and favorite munchies.

And, the same is true of politics.

Many individuals perceive the state of politics to be corrupt — although arguably not broken beyond repair — the task of improving the system and restoring the faith of the citizenry in that system seems too complex to cause meaningful mass action, but as a famous Chinese proverb states, “The journey of ten-thousand miles begins with a single step.” Similarly, the journey of changing the ills of our political system arguably begins with a single vote: yours.

Could it be that people are too cautious or overly pessimistic?

When action is taken towards a generally good idea — say, an idea like universal health care — the public meets the action with caution and skepticism, which shortens or delays benefits which may have been more readily experienced with decisive action and a more trusting public.

While caution and a degree of skepticism can be a good thing, it can also be a hinderance, and the key to knowing which it is at any given moment requires vigilance: a conscious effort of becoming informed and weighing the possibilities with critical thought

— which is problematic given the lofty trend of laziness.

Ultimately, is the problem that people have simply lost faith in the system?

Given the air of general political cynicism, students often fall into the trap of dismissing the value of their own voices. When I’ve asked my college peers why they didn’t vote, the most common response was that they didn’t think it mattered — that their individual votes didn’t make a difference.

And if it doesn’t matter, than why bother? Uhm, because it actually does, in ways you may not have considered .

One person’s choice not to vote may carry a bigger impact than most realize. Statistically, one vote out of many may seem insignificant, but added to a pool, and the Electoral College aside, it gains strength — like a single drop of rain falling into the ocean; without those singular drops of rain, the seas would not rise, nor the positive ripple effect be seen.

Somewhere between the time I was regretting eating too many french fries and questioning if I could stomach dessert, a poem I learned while in Africa came to mind.

I remember the colorful yellow and green traditional dress of my Twi professor vividly to this day; the bright colors from her outfit popped even more with the backdrop of the black chalkboard. Thunder was rolling in the distance, leaving the Ghanian air dusty and moist; she boasted the words of the poem, her voice like thunder rolling across the concrete and wooden frame of the classroom. The significance of the poem was a telling of an encounter with a colony of ants.

Roughly translated, here is the portion of the poem that came to mind:

When I was walking, I saw a trail of ants going back and forth.

Curious, I stopped to ask one, “Little ant, what are you all doing?”

“Oh, we are gathering food for the season,” said the ant.

Then, I saw the ant transporting a big piece of food on its back.

Amazed, I asked, “Little ants, how is it possible to carry such a burden, for you are so small and that so big?”

In unison, the voice of the ants thundered, “One cannot, but many can.”

The poem, is the Twi version of the American expression, “There is strength in numbers,” which is a readily applicable concept to Democracy. Ideas and patterns of behavior are contagious, especially at the collegiate level. If students vote as a trend, then the strength of force toward positive political change is greater, with potential for creating a positive cultural ripple effect.

Thus, each vote matters.

The mockery plaguing our political system is ultimately that we forget just how much democracy relies on the individual components. Like tiny ants shouldering huge burdens, democracy functions best when participants function with the mindset of being part of the whole — bringing bits of information, food, and resources back to the colony, as well as learning from the trails of information left behind by those who ventured out first. It’s a system that relies on each member to be driven to do his or her part.

However, after the Democratic debates last month, my optimism began to curb. Again our journalism team went out — this time polling students walking around our own campus. We asked 130 students the following three questions.

1. “Can you name two of the Democratic candidates running for President?”

2. “Which of these issues — gun control, Immigration, and Climate Change— do you think is the most important issue for candidates to debate?”

3. “Are you going to watch the Democratic debate tonight?”

Here are the findings:

Of the 130 students we polled, 42 percent of students said that they could name two of the candidates. A few others tried, and they including “Trump” in the list of Democratic candidates. Their attempts were counted towards the “could not” name the Democratic candidates. The two candidates that students were able to successfully name were Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Of the 130 students we polled, most students identified gun control as the most important issue for candidates to debate; immigration was a close second; climate change came in third.

Only 29 percent of the students that we polled planned to watch the Democratic debate that night. Most students didn’t plan to watch it all, and a few planned to at least check the highlights online.

Between the end of summer and now, the midpoint of Fall Semester, I’ve had a mix of political conversations: several of substance, mostly with individuals at least 50 years old; most a disappointment with my peers. Snippets of better political conversations are below.

“The only saving grace of Trump running is that he will split the Republican vote, so there’s still hope we’ll get Hilary for President.”

“It’s a down right shame what they’re doing with Planned Parenthood. I can’t believe Republicans are stooping so low and trying to take away women’s rights, again. That’s why I’m going to volunteer and offer my services as a Nurse Practitioner.”

“The whole Bipartisan system is a joke. It’s not a fair representation of modern values. It’s also ridiculous that we still have an Electoral College in 2015. They should really get rid of that process.”

After which, I did some more thinking — minus the French fries.

We champion freedom while simultaneously undermining notable progress towards equality.

We claim “Freedom of Religion,” then permit out-dated religiously biased leanings to take away women’s health care rights.

We claim racial progress and have policies preventing discrimination; meanwhile, Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter remind us racism is alive and well in this country.

We claim “this land is our land” when we really stole it from Native Americans, who continue to be persecuted and robbed of rights to this day.

We went back on Affirmative Action plans in education — overlooking the reasons behind the privilege of the complaining White majority — and continue to see systematic inequality in our education today.

We restrict immigration, largely forgetting this is now a land of immigrants, and instead, we continue to support corporate cultural appropriation.

We look overseas and are quick to criticize Sharia law and the lack of opportunities for young women in third-world countries, but can we as a nation really claim equality of the sexes when

I think not.

Rather than a “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave,” we have become the “land of corporate slaves” and the “home of information cowards.”

The problem with voting culture is the idea that “politics is boring” and that people avoid becoming informed. Why? Because if we knew enough, we might just be angry enough to have to change.