Breath of Clarity


American Politics and Government

The various works illustrate ideas about ways to increase and manipulate political participation. The radio podcast, 555: The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind presents America’s public political representation problem. The prologue introduces the backfire effect phenomenon, which states when confronted with evidence disproving a belief, most people ignore the new material and become more entrenched in their original viewpoint. In The American Political System, Ken Kollman explains people question whether America is better off with broad political participation if so many affluent closed-minded individuals, as opposed to the poor who need government aid, participate in our elections. According to Kollman, “the [low-income and racial minority] often rely on government assistance to support themselves, yet they vote in lower numbers than the wealthy, who can rely on their own ample resources” (342). In How to Increase Voter Turnout in Communities Where People Have Not Usually Participated in Elections, Melissa Michelson explains motivating under-engaged citizens is crucial to boost Democratic Party prospects. The article and radio podcast acknowledge the difficulty involved with flipping people’s opinions, but emphasize the canvasser is not a poster and can hold valuable conversations with voters who misunderstand their political perceptions.

The podcast stresses particular circumstances must be met in these conversations, specifically because “people make their voting decisions on a visceral level” and the canvassers’ purpose is to evoke the emotional influences which fuels decision-making (This American Life). The canvasser needs to be a person who represents the population who benefit from a swayed vote. Researcher Donald Green asserts “it’s about changing the face that people associate with the issue,” and the canvassers’ vulnerability sparks the voter’s personal associations which were never previously brought to surface level (This American Life). According to Michelson, “interactions serve as a brief disruption to reluctant citizens’ entrenched understandings of themselves as disengaged from the polity” (2). The canvassers’ job working with uninterested voters is similar to those who lack self-awareness. The podcast depicted two conversations about totally separate issues (gay marriage and abortion). However, both voters opinions changed when the canvasser inquired about the voters’ lives as opposed to their ideals. By personalizing both the canvasser and the voters’ loved ones who are affected by the election outcome, voters arrive at conclusions different from what they originally thought.

However, there are limitations to relying on personal contact’s impact because it can’t be done on a large scale at low costs. When faced with desperation, “Los Angeles LGBT Center spent 2.5 million dollars over 4 years and reaches 12,000 voters considering they lost Proposition 8 by 600,000 votes” (This American Life). Further more, Michelson explains new research shows repeated contact is increasingly beneficial to produce habitual voters. However, the financial costs required to broaden informed public participation supports its undesirability. In the state of California with 17 million voters, LGBT would need to spend a fortune to impact any election. Moreover, Michelson claims efforts designed to intentionally mobilize ethnic solidarities are not any more effective than general appeals to a broad civic duty.

There is much debate about whether broader participation is important. Kollman explains the paradox of voting, people still vote despite the fact that the individual costs often outweigh the individual benefits (346). It suggests broad political participation is important to the individual who sacrificially votes, which stems from their faith in democracy. The principle can apply to any political participation act (writing letter, donating to campaigns, protesting etc.). They are motivated by a collective good implied with faith in the democratic system, the assumption widespread participation will reflect America’s perspective most accurately. However, Kollman articulates, “political knowledge varies widely within the population, and most people are not well informed” and rely on biased news sources and other people (350). The podcast illustrates people may be exposed to substantial experience, but often lack the essential reflective component without speaking to a canvasser. However, it’s most important to increase power accessibility to underprivileged people attempting to alter the status-quo.

To facilitate increased participation in the political sphere, we must rid the campaign’s objective to raise money. By allocating an equal amount of funds to each candidate, the people will influence the powerful voices, rather than the other way around. Citizens will need to brainstorm creative strategies to reach politician’s ears, rather than relying on a single vote. Other forms of political participation will be prioritized over voting intended to influence the government beyond the barriers of election season such as: writing or contacting political representatives, attending rallies and protests, attending meetings of political organizations, writing to newspapers or blogs about politics, and most importantly talking to other people about politics. Citizens will teach each other about the issues, and the people will dictate the political process. There will be increased emphasis on personal stories which influence issue-viewpoints, rather than preferences about the demeanor of each candidate. Each individual American will be responsible for passionately fighting to support causes that impact his/her daily life. The debate will exist among the people, rather than across the divided group of politicians. American citizens will collaborate to compose a single viewpoint based on collective reflection. The accumulation of these perspectives will compose the accurate American desire.