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U.S. Voter Participation Essay

2291 words - 9 pages

U.S. Voter Participation

In a pluralist country such as America, there are numerous opinions over what society's goals should be, and the best method of achieving them. In theory, every American citizen has an equal say in the political affairs of this county. By participating in politics, people air their voices and thereby contribute to nation through representatives, hence the term representative democracy. It may seem to be beyond argument that political participation is a key objective in all democratic institutions. However, there is room for legitimate disagreement about the health of our democracy, in regards to the extent of civic participation. This raises the important question of how much participation there actually is in the United States. How many Americans take part in activities such as voting, attending political meetings, joining political parties, or even discussing politics with their neighbors? The answer is surprisingly few for a country that prides itself on democracy. However, is this low level of participation hurting our nation?
In some respects, Americans are as ambivalent about political participation as they are about democratic values. On the one hand, large numbers of Americans believe that the "ordinary citizen" should play a part in public affairs. On the other hand, relatively few Americans actually take the initiative do so. Americans often hypocritically express the view that they are obligated as citizens to engage in politics, even though they are not involved in any real form of political activity. This view suggests that Americans tend to be more passive than active political participants. Active participation includes attending political rallies, meetings, and fundraisers, trying to influence government, joining interest groups, and of course voting. And this brings us to the controversial topic of voter turn out in the United States.
According to one common view, the quality of democracy depends upon the extent to which voters use their rights to vote and to take part in public life. It is healthy if memberships of political parties are large and active, and if attendance at political rallies is high, and so on. Some nations believe that it is essential to take part in political life, and that the state should encourage, and even oblige them to do so. For example, some countries consider that it is vital to ensure that a high proportion of eligible voters cast their ballots. Accordingly, they make voting compulsory, as in Australia. An alternative view suggests that it does not matter whether citizens actually participate in politics, but it is vital that they should have the right to do so, irrespective of whether they choose to use it. This is perhaps the case in the United States, where voter turnout hovers around an astounding fifty percent, which is lowest among all industrialized democracies (Roskin 113.)
In a democracy, a high priority is typically associated with...

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