The Dangers of Political Apathy

Eden Witelson, Guest Writer

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We hear a lot about how politically divided Americans are these days. Yet while a polarized electorate can result in anger and arguments, there is a much bigger threat to our democracy: political apathy. I believe that apathy can be destructive for a nation that prides itself on expressing the will of the people, a nation whose constitution opens with “we the people,” and I feel that it could lead us as a nation on a dangerous path.

During the last presidential election, only 58% of eligible voters cast ballots. This suggests that people are either giving up on their country or giving up on the idea that their voice is impactful. Meanwhile, in schools like mine, the phrase “I’m not interested in politics” has become a plague. It affects me deeply to hear these words spoken by the future voters of America. I recognize that it will soon be my generation’s responsibility to express our opinions and be engaged citizens. There is simply no way for our government to express “the will of the people” if the nation’s citizens fail to participate in the political system.

Millennials refers to population 18 to 35 as of 2016. Pew Research Center. Graph courtesy of NPR

While I don’t share the dismissive stance that many people have towards politics, I do understand their feeling of insignificance. In our country, elections have come to represent a clash between opposed ideologies. This forces each person to make decisions in a stark win-or-lose format, where a commitment to one candidate means a commitment to all of his or her principles, even if one does not agree with them all. With no compromise and no middle ground, voting becomes less about making a difference on specific issues and more about keeping a certain party in power. Voters might become resigned to “the way things are,” and this resignation leads to apathy.

I believe that the solution to political apathy lies in changing the basic nature of our political system. Rather than the current black-and-white approach to determining the direction of the country, voters could be given more opportunities to vote for specific policies than just for individual candidates. This already takes place to a limited extent in cities and states that use ballot initiatives, which allow voters to decide on issues such as new taxes, or the local minimum wage. Allowing voters to set more of the political agenda directly, instead of choosing a candidate based on a set of campaign promises and hoping for the best, would accomplish two important advancements. It would encourage citizens to learn more about issues that matter to them and might result in higher voting rates. It would also ensure that even voters on the “losing” side in an election could feel that their will is being expressed and that their opinions count. I believe that when citizens feel that they matter in the grand scheme of things and that they are not defined by a political group, then the value of political participation will be more pronounced and apathy will decline.

Finally, young people must be fully prepared to participate in such a system. “I’m not interested in politics” is something that can only be said by people who believe that government and politics have no connection to their own lives. It is therefore crucial that young people learn more about how government works so that they can step up and participate. Plenty of people regularly express discontent with the current system, but real participation means taking the next step by setting out to change the world for the better. My peers and I already have the power to express opinions and be engaged citizens, and very soon we will also be eligible to vote. If we do not live up to those responsibilities, the path of our nation will not be determined by us, it will be determined for us.


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