Country needs a reason to trust government again

Political Columnist

Sam Wiles

Elections and voting in the United States are in a troubling condition as of late. The famous Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted in 2013, political gerrymandering is on the rise, voting restrictions are cropping up across dozens of states and voter turnout is horrifically low. Additionally, the influx of huge amounts of cash from corporations and individuals has the effect of drowning out the voices of regular citizens. We are starting to lose faith in our government, and that faith needs to be restored.

Since the mid-1960s, trust in our government has fallen dramatically according to a Pew Research poll. The measure of people who trusted the government reached a peak of about 77 percent, just before the Vietnam War to the current anemic level of 24 percent. To put that in perspective, it is lower than the trust people had just after Watergate. In addition to trust in government, there is the Congressional approval rating which sits in the low teens.

Another primary indicator of the level of trust in government, in my opinion, is voter turnout. Over the past few election cycles turnout has been dropping across all levels, but overall trends remain the same. Historically speaking, the voters with the highest turnout rates are older, richer and more educated; lower turnout is usually seen among younger, poorer and less-educated citizens. But why is it the case that the first set of citizens is more prolific at voting than the second group? Well there are a few reasons. First, people who have a stake in the government or their community are more likely to vote and usually that correlates with the first group. Older citizens have a greater stake because, among other reasons, they have a greater connection to the government. For example, they obtain monthly benefits from the government in the form of Medicare and Social Security. This makes them more likely to pay attention to news and be more active citizens.

Younger citizens are less likely to vote because they lack a stake in government. For the most part, few of us are affected directly by the federal government, with the exception being student loans or grants. This creates general apathy or disinterest towards political issues. This is evidenced by the less-than-outstanding turnout rate of roughly 21 percent in 2014 among youth voters (18-29).

Besides the historical reasons for voting patterns, there is the issue with our elections. Due to the examples listed above, voters are starting to think that their votes don’t matter as much. Voting restrictions enacted after the 2013 ruling could have the effect of reducing turnout. Politically-motivated gerrymandering directly affects the votes and representation of districts across the United States. And the influence of money has a negative effect on voting in that it makes the average voter believe his vote does not matter.

A fix to these problems is not easy nor will it come easily. First off, overturning a Supreme Court ruling would require a Constitutional Amendment, a near impossible task in today’s political climate. Fixing the Voting Rights Act lacks any kind of bipartisan support. Lastly, political gerrymandering will not end as long as the politicians in charge have a vested interest in how a district is arranged.

An easier fix is for everyone, across all age groups and socioeconomic statuses, to become more involved and invested in the functioning of government. Once people realize that they can enact change or realize that decisions made in all levels of government affect them, there can be progress towards regenerating trust in government. Or maybe I’m just an optimist.

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