Don’t Be an American Idiot

Study shows many Americans don’t know how our government functions and America has a significantly less number of citizens voting than other developed countries.



Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies at his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill Sept. 4, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Ava Stoltz, News & Sports Editor

This past month, candidates running for office have produced commercials full of mud-slinging, promises and reminders about the upcoming midterms that have filled screens. Yet many voters don’t seem to know the importance of their vote and what effect it will have. Learning about how our government runs and functions needs to be a higher priority in the American people, especially since voting for midterms is just around the corner.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, only a quarter of Americans could name all three branches of government. Especially with our current political climate, if the American people want something to change, they need to show up to the polls and vote. The government affects us in many parts of our lives through laws and policies, so understanding about the importance of our vote is essential to being an active citizen. As students, it is our own responsibility to be active in our education about the government and to not be apathetic. 

President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

In order for high school students to graduate, almost every state has a requirement of at least one semester learning about the U.S. Government or civics. This means that almost all high school graduates will have had some type of class teaching them about how our government functions, and why active citizens are necessary to keep our government running. Based on this information, citizens should be expected to know the three branches of the government, but they don’t.

Students are often stereotyped in high school for memorizing what they need to know for a test and then forgetting about it the very next day. Many students are there for the good grade and to move on to college where they can pursue what the actually want to study. However, along with forgetting important facts about our government and how it functions, they also seem to be forgetting that voting is what makes a representative democracy run. Voting is an essential part of how government functions, so it works how the people want it to and focuses on what needs to be solved.

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photograph at the Supreme Court building on June 1, 2017, in Washington, DC. Front row. Seated from left, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Standing behind from left, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

In the 2016 election, out of the voting age population, only 56 percent turned up to vote. This number puts the United States below most other developed, democratic states in the world. Our voter turnout is ranked 26 out of the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with most of their voting percentages being around 70 percent. These numbers show it’s not just not learning about our government that the problem, but America as a whole. America is apathetic about voting, and it shows.

President Donald Trump departs the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 2018. (Olivier Doulier/Abaca Press/TNS)

Apathy is not just limited to the presidential elections but is especially prevalent in the midterm elections. In the 2014 election, out of registered voters, only about 36 percent of the nation voted. Americans either don’t care about or don’t understand the importance of these elections. In these upcoming Midterms, 435 House of Representatives seats and 35 Senate seats are up for grabs. Since Congress is the legislative branch that makes and passes laws, voting for who you want to be in office is very important to how the country will run for the next two years.

Americans need to get fix their apathy problem in order to begin fixing our voting problem. This can start in school systems by putting more emphasis throughout school on how important being an active, voting citizen is. We don’t need more classes on the subject since it seems it is incorporated into all the states, but it seems an added emphasis on the subject could help. Even voter registration at schools. We need Americans to understand that voting is an essential part of becoming a productive citizen, and is important to the future decisions Congress will be making and the direction our country will go in.