Is Political Apathy Rooted in Institutional Inefficacy in the U.S.? Post #2

The track of my research has deviated slightly as I have continued my research. I feel as though I have opened a can of worms with this project, and the questions I had are not nearly as simple as I had hoped they would be. That’s research, after all.

Originally, the question was: Is political apathy rooted in institutional inefficacy in the United States?

Now, the question has transformed into: What do we know about the causes of and solutions to political apathy in the United States?

Some major institutional causes that I have found impactful are as follows:

  • Single-member districts
    • Single-member districts drown out minority voices entirely, a concept similar to the winner-take-all of the Electoral College system
    • When people feel as though their desired candidate cannot win because of our system—in contrast to proportional representation—the incentive to go out and vote decreases
  • Two-party systems
    • Similarly, our systems only allow for two main parties to take hold
    • It is very easy for people to not identify with either party, disincentivizing votes as well
  • Electoral College
    • Living in a deep red or deep blue state and having personal political beliefs that do not match the state’s could dissuade people from voting as the Electoral College runs as a winner-take-all system in 48 of the 50 states
    • Extra value is also given to smaller states, skewing one vote per person, contributing to the feeling that a person’s one vote does not make a difference
  • Tuesday voting
    • Instead of a weekend or federal holiday when it is easier to get off work, voting takes place on a work day during work hours, limiting people’s ability to leave or discouraging people that would have to take a pay cut for their time off
  • Voter registration
    • Instead of having automatic registration, people have to go out of their way to register
    • An alternative to automatic registration is also having registration available on voting day at precincts
  • High quantity of elections
    • With national elections, 50 statewide elections, and local elections all the time, there are too many candidates, positions, and news stories to keep track of which tends to exhaust and discourage voters
  • Lack of streamlined elections
    • In some European parliamentary systems, people vote for parties as opposed to figuring out how they felt about each and every person running on the different levels; the parliamentary system is much easier for voters to act on

Cultural influences also have a role:

  • Negativity asserted through the media turns people off to politics
  • People widely believe that politicians care about reelection only; once elected, people feel largely ignored by their representatives that care about outside interests
  • With such great polarization, people are becoming more and more disgusted with politics, also giving a bad taste of government to people that may have otherwise considered running
  • After so many promises of policies meant to help citizens, people grow tired and lose faith in the government
  • Youth turnout
    • While this is constantly a problem, there seems to be a greater problem with current youth – the declining faith in government is felt by everybody, but might affect youth more
    • Youth are not apathetic toward the welfare of the country, just about political participation that has left a bad taste
    • Youth of today are volunteering in much higher numbers than in the past


  1. crsublett says:

    Hi Stephanie!
    This is a very large project and can definitely keep you busy as you continue to investigate things in the future. I have a few questions that you could factor in as you seek an understanding of these complex concepts. It is true- the quantity of elections can be overwhelming. But within each locality, it’s only 3 or 4 a year- citizens of one state aren’t required to pay attention to other states and localities. Is this a manageable amount or do you think they should all be at once? If they were at once, then voters that couldn’t make the single date suddenly miss out on electing all of their representatives, rather than just one set. Also, having so many decisions to make at once could reduce the chance that voters will be able to remember candidates and pick the one that aligns with their views. There are two sides to every issue, and I wonder if there is a middle ground that might address both sets of issues? Or perhaps you don’t see the second set as issues- if so feel free to share your thoughts!

    Another round of devil’s advocate, this time about the Electoral College: you talk about the importance of minority points of view, but isn’t that what the electoral college is preserving? If we get rid of it, then suddenly Rhode Island has almost no impact compared to the large urban population centers in California and New York. However, the smaller population states have different needs than states with big cities. California and NY might push policies that favor funds for urban development to boost their economy, but smaller states might really need the government to focus on crop subsidies for farmer’s or developing new infrastructure in more rural areas. These areas, having a smaller population by comparison, are in the minority compared to big cities, but don’t they have a right to be heard in government policy as well? Abolishing the Electoral College could threaten that.
    Interested to know what you think!