Voice In Democracy Essay

1202 words - 5 pages

The United States government is what is known as a constitutional republic, meaning that citizens, rather than individually represent themselves, vote for legal representatives who act on their behalf. While the ideal version of this system would lead to candidates, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” often times it becomes necessary for constituents to communicate with their chosen representatives in order to tell them exactly what it is they want. By allowing citizens to play a role in the actions of their government, the chance of tyrannical rule is diminished and the knowledge of the public also increases. While there are certainly weaknesses to a system where public ...view middle of the document...

If a poll cannot consistently report these basic facts, it calls into question whether polls are an accurate way to gauge the opinions of the American public.
While polls and surveys are often created by the government or third party agencies, there exists another method of measuring public opinions that does not directly require the government’s or any organization’s efforts: political participation. When the public has high enough levels of efficacy, the belief that they can indeed make a difference, they are provoked into action. In the sense of political participation, the public acts in a way to show their opinions and stances on different issues. Such participation is especially effective if it is preceded by mobilization efforts, in which organization attempt to spur like-minded individuals into acting.
Political participation is effective in gauging public opinion in that it takes many forms, and are often indicative of a group’s levels of efficacy and salience. The most direct and easily seen method of participation is voting. Individuals, when voting, go out and cast their ballots for the candidates whom they believe will best represent their opinions in the government. However, while this may be the most conventional method of participation, there are other, more unconventional methods that, while lacking the clear mathematical measurements of a vote, can have even more powerful impacts upon the government. Protests and rallies, which concentrate large numbers of similarly minded people into speaking for or against a specific issue, are infamous for their effects on determining policy.
An important concept to keep in mind when it comes to political participation is the benefit vs. cost analysis. Unlike a poll or survey, which requires little more than a moment of time, participation has substantial costs. In the instance of voting, individuals must register, arrive at the polling place, wait in line, and then vote for the candidates they choose. While this process is not costly in terms of money, it takes a good deal of time. People will only accept these costs if they believe the benefits will be greater. This is again seen in voting where citizens aspire to see their chosen candidates win office. When benefits are not enough, people can also be intrinsically motivated by a feeling of civic duty toward their community. Individuals take these into consideration when deciding whether or not they want to participate.
This cost-benefit analysis reveals some of the key weaknesses of gauging public opinion solely on political participation. If those who participate are only those individuals who feel they have something to gain,...

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