A matter of indifference
Cynicism about the state of politics is no reason not to vote
Within the next few weeks election season will come to a close, and as I reflect on the process, I realize that it has been a rough time for everyone involved. The ever-enduring presidential candidates had to trudge all across the United States — or at least across the few battleground states that they deemed worthy of their attention — while also finding clever ways to misrepresent their opponent’s claims and records for their own campaign ads. They had to perfect their fake smiles and retain one or two statistics that they could cite hundreds of times over. It was all very arduous.
But with all due respect to President Obama and Governor Romney, I have to say that I think election season has been even tougher for us, the prospective voters. There have been three campaign debates thus far. For the relatively more informed, educated voters, watching these debates and witnessing the resulting displays of ignorance on the part of the American citizenry and the mainstream media has been a source of great emotional distress. While these thoughtless responses were certainly not issued exclusively by college students, it is my peers specifically whom I want to address today.
Our generation seems to hold one of two views regarding the upcoming election and politics in general: “We’re screwed either way, so I don’t really care who wins” or “Everything that my party says is correct, while my opponents are unintelligent and under-qualified monsters.” Admittedly, even I have been guilty of saying something similar to the latter in the heat of a debate viewing. Politics seems like a giant game of he-said-she-said, and we do not have the time or the patience to sift through all of the garbage we are fed in order to locate some semblance of truth. Trying to piece together legitimate opinions based on the sound bites and partisan declarations that stream from our televisions can be incredibly frustrating and this can result in apathy toward the entire system.
I understand why this apathy exists, but I am encouraging you all — if you have even cared enough to read this column — to fight it. Unconcern about government is unacceptable. As college students, we represent a faction of society that is being actively educated and whose members share the ultimate goal of taking on meaningful roles in society. How can we prepare to be the leaders of the future and simultaneously feel indifferent about the political direction in which our country is headed?
A shockingly low percentage of the college-aged electorate shows up to the polls every year. In the 2008 election, despite what the Census Bureau called “a statistically significant increase in turnout,” still only 49 percent of people aged 18-24 voted, which was the lowest rate of any age bracket.
We are discouraged, I understand. But are we going to let our discouraged nature rule us? I acknowledge the faults of our election procedures. Our polarized government forces candidates to put themselves into boxes; they conform to the pressures of their party platforms, their donors and special interests groups. Their trivialization of the issues and their apparent superficiality can make us lose faith in them, but we must realize that they do these things out of necessity. They are not bad people; they are part of a bad system. They are our potential leaders, and we need to appreciate the serious implications of that fact. Additionally, I realize that the Electoral College system can make millions of voters feel disenfranchised, as if their vote is pointless and will not even be counted. But in Virginia, thirteen electoral votes over which the candidates have contentiously fought have not been decisively claimed. Right now, it is a close contest. It may not seem like your one vote is going to make a difference, but it will. Here is something that a lot of people do not understand about voting: It is a group activity. No, I do not know of any election that was decided by a single vote. But if we all individually take responsibility for ourselves and recognize our civil duty to voice our opinion, collectively, we can change the outcome of this election.
I do not care who gets your vote. I have my personal opinions, but I will not try to sway you. I believe that everyone should vote, in every election, but particularly in the current one. When you wake up on January 20, 2013, your life will most likely look exactly the same. You may not be affected much by the switch — or lack thereof — in leadership, but millions of people will be. Speak for those people. The issues that are up for debate in this election could literally change the course of our country’s history, depending on how we decide to handle them. You cannot directly affect change, but instead of indulging in that helplessness, realize what you can do: educate yourself and cast your vote with confidence.
In closing, I offer a slew of advice on how to do this: Develop a comprehensive view of all the issues, fact check, listen actively and have the courage to break free from your family or peer group if you decide that is advisable. Do not condone ill-founded belief in yourself or others. Do not accept without question the antiquated and predetermined beliefs of your party — think for yourself.
Ashley Spinks is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.