The Roots of Political Apathy

The Salt Lake County Republican Party Chair, Thomas Wright, recently provided his opinion on why he thinks political apathy is growning in America.  His comments are intersting, and I think this quote sums his thoughts up:

Some political parties take advantage of the average voter’s ignorance and apathy by making personal attacks that increase the complexity of the issues and the decision on who to vote for, instead of decreasing the complexity. Voters then feel confused, overwhelmed and frustrated, so they shut down and turn off. The consequence of this is catastrophic as it shifts the decision of voters from the many to the few who created the voter apathy.

He is right that the “fighting” in politics is part of the cause of apathy for many people. However I think that Wright’s comments are at best myopic.

First of all, I don’t think that personal attacks increase the complexity of the issues. Rather I think that personal attacks detract from discussions about the issues. In my opinion, personal attacks are usually raised by the opposition to keep people from thinking about the issues. Perhaps this was the intent of Wright’s comments. But if that was his intent then he should clarify.

However, I think that we must recognize that there are multiple roots of political apathy. I would personally put political corruption at the top of the list. I have two friends whose apathy towards politics can be summed up by their dislike of political corruption.

The first of these friends thinks all politician are corrupt, and that they shouldn’t even be bothered with. When I mention my political activity to him, he says I am wasting my time because all politicians are corrupt. I haven’t yet discussed how often he votes, but I doubt that his votes are cast with much hope, if they are cast at all.

The other of my friends explained to me why he voted for his current representative. He said something to the effect of “I felt like he running for something more than personal gain.” Again the hint of corruption. While this friend is fairly close to my political views, he doesn’t want to get involved. He does vote. But he refuses to get more involve because of fears of corruption.

I have other examples, but I won’t bore you with them. I am also sure that you could share other examples of people in your life who express that their apathy is related to the corruption. The point is that while political corruption isn’t rampant in Utah, it certainly is in the hearts of many Utahns.

One could argue that this sense of corruption in government is because of personal attacks, and I don’t know that I could argue against it. But I think that claiming a stance against personal attacks is not enough. Rather, we need to work harder to find trustworthy people who want to represent their constituency and who aren’t seeking personal gain through political power. Further we as a party should seek to extend ethics reform to help increase the trust of the people.

Another root of political apathy is simple laziness. Our founding father’s understood that many were politically lazy. That’s why we have a republic.  So, that those who chose to be informed would be better representatives of the people.  However, this doesn’t remove the responsibility of those who are politically involved from keeping their neighbors aware.

Political attacks do play off of this laziness too. And perhaps laziness is less of a factor than attacks. But it shouldn’t be counted out.

I don’t wish to claim that Wright is wrong. Rather, I want to expand on his ideas. If we truly want to reduce political apathy. We need to take a multifaceted approach, because the reasons for apathy vary. I look forward to seeing what Wright will do during his tenure in the Salt Lake County GOP leadership. I hope that he works to increase voter turn out, because that is the best thing for our party and for this state and country, but in order to succeed he needs to look at the many roots of apathy.

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2 comments to The Roots of Political Apathy

  • I agree that political apathy has many fathers. But I think it can aptly be boiled down to one thing: political involvement varies in direct proportion to the amount of influence an individual senses he/she can affect on actual outcomes.

    When you feel that your vote is worthless you are less likely to vote. When you feel that your involvement at the grass roots level ‘costs’ you more that you get out of it, you are less likely to be involved at that level.

    The average person feels that the political process is owned and manipulated by the political class. Regardless of party, these people focus the public debate on a very few matters, effectively distracting from the things that are of actual importance.

    The more people a representative represents, the less each vote is worth. People know this. The more we gerrymander districts to make them ‘safe,’ the less each person’s vote makes any difference. The more any area (or state) that is skewed to a single party, the less each person’s vote means, regardless of which party they support. In these situations, even the people that agree with the outcome are less incentivized to be politically involved because they know that their neighbors will take care of it for them anyway.

    • Thanks for your further insights. I had never thought of gerrymandering as another cause of apathy. I will have to think on that one for a while. It may change my opinion on gerrymandering. I have always accepted the argument of to the winner go the spoils.

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