American political system is complex, and thus many people still do not entirely comprehend its details. For example, when, in 2017, citizens had to decide about the status of the healthcare system, they did not understand that Obamacare was another name for the Affordable Care Act (Ginsberg et al., p. 10, 2020). The three subject areas that were particularly interesting for me in this course were citizens’ involvement in elections, the Constitution, and the media in the United States. Therefore, this essay aims to explore the details of unresolved questions in the balloting, citizens’ role in changing the Constitution, and the media. The three problems I want to discuss are the low voting participation rate, the challenges of amending the Constitution, and the excessive role of the media in politics.
Participation in Local Voting
Voting is one of the most prominent forms of people’s political participation. Although all citizens above 18 can participate in this process nowadays, it was not the case less than a century ago. Women received the right to vote in 1920, African Americans won this privilege in 1965, and the age of the participants was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1971 (Ginsberg et al., p. 270, 2020). Even though many constraints were legally removed, Americans have a relatively low turnout, the percentage of citizens who actually voted (Ginsberg et al. p. 271, 2020). Unfortunately, participation in local and national elections is equally low (Warshaw p. 463, 2019). For instance, studies show that “less than 30% of voting-age adults and less than 40% of registered voters participate in mayoral and city council elections” (Warshaw, p. 463, 2019). Research revealed that homeowners, affluent groups, and elderly individuals are active participants in local elections, making this political event skewed towards a small portion of the population (Warshaw p. 462, 2019). Some groups are apparently excluded from voting due to a lack of awareness.
Since a significant gap exists in terms of the voters’ race, ethnicity, and income, the local elections are mainly based on racial or incumbency perceptions. Those who have previously run the office have a 32% higher chance of being reelected than those who are not incumbents (Warshaw p. 469, 2019). Race has become a less essential indicator because some big cities are run by the black chairmen (Warshaw p. 470, 2019). Still, the percentages are relatively low since only 10% of non-southern and 20% of southern cities have African American mayors (Warshaw p. 470, 2019). Moreover, female political representation is low because only “15% of winning mayoral candidates” were women (Warshaw p. 470, 2019). These issues likely result from the insufficient turnout of citizens. One of the solutions that I suggest to resolve these problems is to increase medium coverage of local elections to raise people’s awareness of the importance of voting.
The Role of Citizens in Altering the Constitution
Although the U.S. Constitution was created almost two hundred years ago, it underwent amendments. Indeed, there are four legal ways to introduce changes to this document. The first is the passage of suggested alterations by two-thirds of votes in the House and Senate (Ginsberg et al. p. 58, 2020). Secondly, the approval in the two houses of Congress is followed by the individual states’ ratification (Ginsberg et al., p. 58, 2020). The third way is “passage in a national convention … in response to petitions by two-thirds of the states,” and then acceptance by the majority of votes in states (Ginsberg et al. p. 58, 2020). Lastly, changes can be made through passing “in a national convention …, then ratification by conventions” (Ginsberg et al. p. 58, 2020). However, most modifications were done using the first method, but it does not mean that ordinary citizens cannot influence these changes.
People can propose changes to the Constitution, but they must provide proper justifications. For example, the twenty-seventh amendment, suggesting that congressional pay cannot be raised until the election of the new Congress, was proposed by a student and was ratified in 1992 (Ginsberg et al., p. 62, 2020). Still, the U.S. Constitution is known to be challenging to amend because, as it can be seen from the four methods, it takes two-thirds of votes for ratification (Desilver para. 4, 2018). Although it is a problem, I believe that the country’s official document with the fundamental principles of politics and law should not be easy to change.
The Media in the United States
Freedom of speech in the United States can be dated back to the period when the country became independent from the British Empire. The first ten amendments that were initially made to the Constitution incorporated the right for the press to express opinions freely (Ginsberg et al. p. 229, 2020). The media plays three essential roles in American society: it provides a forum for political candidates, observes politicians’ actions, and informs the public about the ongoing issues (Ginsberg et al. p. 229, 2020). Many believe that newspapers, journals, and television channels are biased and cannot give an accurate overview of various situations, especially regarding politics (Ginsberg et al., p. 229, 2020). Still, ordinary citizens often base their decisions using the information provided by the press.
The U.S. media is probably the least controlled information source globally. Indeed, the TV channels and newspapers are privately owned and hence not regulated by the government (Ginsberg et al. p. 232, 2020). Therefore, many people, especially politicians, often label mass media and the press as fake or biased. For example, Donald Trump used such discrediting adjectives as “phony,” “disgusting,” and “wrong” when describing The New York Times in his Twitter posts (Williams and Schoonvelde p. 1627, 2018). It may be an exaggeration, but it reflects the politicians’ frustration with the tremendous influence of the media on public opinion. Indeed, citizens become more interested in policies that the press emphasizes the most. The primary problem, in this case, is that people are overly dependent on the media’s opinion about politics. I propose popularizing students’ and other ordinary individuals’ debates about political issues. It can be done by creating a television show that will invite citizens for these discussions, that should help raise critical thinking abilities among the population.
The three issues reviewed in this paper were people’s participation in voting, the citizens’ role in changing the Constitution, and the U.S. media. Studies showed that the turnout is relatively low in our country; hence, higher media coverage of local elections is needed. Although the Constitution of the United States is hard to amend, ordinary people can propose alterations. Lastly, the U.S. media has acquired its right to free speech since the early days of independence, making it one of the most powerful forces that shape public viewpoints about American politics. Still, I believe that television debates about political situations involving ordinary citizens should be implemented to reduce people’s dependence on the media’s opinion.
Desilver, Drew. Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution Seldom Go Anywhere. Pew Research Center, 2018.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, et al. We the People, 13th ed. With Governing Texas, 5th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2020. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc E-Book.
Warshaw, Christopher. “Local elections and representation in the United States.” Annual Review of Political Science vol. 22, 2019, pp. 461-479. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-050317-071108.
Williams, Christopher J., and Martijn Schoonvelde. “It Takes Three: How Mass Media Coverage Conditions Public Responsiveness to Policy Outputs in the United States.” Social Science Quarterly, vol. 99, no. 5, 2018, pp. 1627-1636. doi: 10.1111/ssqu.12525.