Two-Bit Politics: How Monument Students Choose Political Positions
May 15, 2012
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Everyone knows that Monument – like other schools in the state – is a very liberal, democratic school. So when surveying students and faculty members on their political leanings, I did not expect to find anything shocking, and was praying for something that was at least mildly interesting.
To increase the chances of this actually happening, rather than simply asking what people’s party affiliations and preferred candidates in the upcoming presidential election were, I insisted that they explain why as well. I figured I could at least write an article on how ignorant students are concerning their own political beliefs, based on the flimsy reasons I assumed they would give for justifying being a liberal democrat who plans on voting for Obama.
Of the twenty students and two faculty members I surveyed, eighteen out of twenty of the serious answers were from people who said they were Democrats (or Democrats masquerading as Independents) that supported Obama in the upcoming presidential election. One student said she was a Democrat, but planned on voting for Romney because she did not support Obama. Another said he did not believe in our political system and would vote for nobody.
Some of the reasons people gave were empty of any real content, as I expected.
Several students said things like “He’s better than Mitt Romney” and “I think he’s been good for our country.” Other students, and both teachers, had what seemed like well-informed responses. One senior said she would vote for Obama because “We completed the daunting task of turning our economy around after eight years of corruption and (he) has kept promises of hope. In the next four years we will have the opportunity to really gain some ground in repairing our economy and environment.”
Sounds like she knows what she’s talking about, right? She did use a lot of important words like “economy,” “corruption” and “environment” and knows that she wants a better economy and a healthier environment.
Upon reading this a second time, however, I realized that this response was almost as content-free as “he’s been good for our country.” After all, who doesn’t want a better environment and a stronger economy? What has Obama done specifically to accomplish this and how do his policies differ from those of other candidates (there are, in fact, more than two)? I know that if I had been given a survey a couple of days ago, I would have likely written something very similar to this, thinking that I was a politically savvy young adult who had come to his conclusions completely independently of his upbringing and the campaigns that are designed for less educated and less independent-thinking segments of the nation’s population. But in reality, a response talking about how great Obama’s been, no matter how eloquently written, has about as much substance as a political ad on TV. Of course, it is very possible that she has more specific information to support her opinion, but I know for a fact that neither I nor any of my friends do.
So what exactly does it take to make a well-informed vote in a presidential election? With a lot of thinking and a little bit of research, I came up with three categories of knowledge the ideal voter would have: knowledge of the system/contextual knowledge, knowledge of himself and knowledge of the candidates.
First, a voter should read the constitution. From this, he should learn exactly what powers the federal government has, how the balance of powers works, and what role the executive branch plays in all of this. Also, since the economy is such important issue for nearly everyone, he should at a bare minimum have taken a class in both micro and macroeconomics so he can better predict how the economic policies of candidates will affect both him individually and the nation as a whole.
Second, he should not only know how he feels about every major political issue that the president has some control over, but should also know which issues are most important to him. One logical way to do this would be to make a list of issues and rank them from most to least important. It is unlikely that there will be a qualified candidate who will completely agree with all of the voter’s opinions, so he will have to systematically pick the candidate who he best aligns with.
Finally, the voter should closely study each of the candidates he is considering, starting with the most important issues. The ideal candidate would not only demonstrate similar opinions, but also would have a strong background of education and experience in each of the fields that the most important issues relate to. This would not be done by watching speeches and political ads, which tend to avoid boring people with specific, unbiased facts. The voter would read the specific legislation the candidates voted for as a member of Congress or oversaw as a governor, and would pay particular attention to the legislation proposed by the candidates.
With all this information, the voter would be able to choose the presidential candidate who she thought would be the best fit in a clear, rational, and well-thought out way. But who really does this? I know that I don’t. All of the work could easily amount to a part-time job, and we all have other things to do. Most of the people I know, myself included, just surrender to standard two-bit politics because we want to spend our energy on more fufilling pursuits. Without this information and thought, however, it seems that the power to vote becomes more like the power to pick the winning lottery numbers than the power to bring about the change we want with any degree of certainty.