With the United States’s reputation as the government of the people, for the people, and by the people, exactly how strong is our country’s government? When I conducted my ten interviews, the majority, eight students, stated the importance of democracy, however, none were sure of its security. Despite the several distinct patterns and similarities in many of the interviewees’ answers, not a single student answered identically to another. One student completely disregarded democracy while another believed democracy is the best form of government, regardless of how well it works in the United States.
The data I gathered may not reflect the thoughts of all or even most of the youths in this country, but there does seem to be a general consensus on certain political beliefs. My interviewees, some more eloquently than others, revealed their worries and opinions about the foundation and effectiveness of our government and state of democracy. Eight students expressed democracy as important for the United States as it allows the people’s voices to be heard. Yet, more than half of those same students showed uncertainty about the actual effectiveness of the current government, which I found quite odd.
How can one find something important if one is not sure of how helpful it can be? For instance, Jessica, one of the students interviewed, agreed with the reasoning that democracy is important due to its opportunities for people to speak. However, she later on discusses how the immigrants, the poor, and the youth have more limited voices or opportunities in our current state of democracy. Interestingly, even though each of the eight share a similar sentiment about democracy, most, if not all, vary in their reasonings as to why it is important.
One student, Christian, as opposed to all the others, disregarded democracy as an idealistic form of government that the United States does not even have. Even though he did disagree with the majority, his later reflection on the effectiveness of the government does resonate with quite a few others. This led me to wonder how much the students actually knew about democracy. Each person seemed to have a varying view of what democracy is or how it even works. More often than not, the students worried about the quality of their answers rather than about expressing their beliefs.
At least three students consistently questioned whether or not their answers were good enough or if their answers sounded intelligent enough for the interview. It seemed as if many of the students have similar answers due to what would sound the smartest. That explains why some of the answers do not necessarily align with the other statements a couple of the students make. Jessica was not the only student to deem democracy as useful, then backtrack and question how effective it actually is. Students also tend to falter after a few statements and feel the need to include that they are not very knowledgeable in politics.
In addition to the ten students I interviewed, I interviewed two more students, but instead of questioning them separately, I questioned them together. I noticed how one student, Jonathan, seemed to speak more freely than the other, Gabby, who seemed to retreat into nodding along and a quiet “I agree” here and there. Rather than bouncing ideas off each other, Gabby conformed to Jonathan’s beliefs, and even if they are similar, she did not speak as much as she would have, had it been a solo interview.
As first time voters during this past election, the students unanimously acknowledge faults in the voting and, especially, the electoral process. Just as how the students had varying reasons behind stating the importance of democracy, students have varying reasons for the issues behind the electoral process as well. Kunal, a transfer student, mentions that, “the electoral college functions the way that it should,” however, due to other processes, such as the primaries, also limits the potential of better nominees or campaigners for presidency.
During the time of the primaries or any form of campaigners, people without an informed background on the politicians may be easily swayed by advertisements or campaigns. Another interviewee, Wendy, believes that prioritizing the electoral process over the popular vote is a flaw, while Christian probes at the idea that this process is not very democratic at all. While the people voting in the electoral college are representatives of the states, history has shown that there have been a number of times when the electoral college did not reflect the popular decision, or rather, the desires of the country.
Vanessa, a current freshman, elaborates on this idea, noting that many states are known to be steered towards one party, while others are swing states. Despite several differing thoughts, I come back to the same conclusion with everyone. There seems to be enough flaws in the system for every person to recognize that the electoral process did not work in favor of the people, particularly in the past election. Noted by a few of the interviewees, the people of this country are limited in the number of ways they can better the government.
Moreover, with that mindset, students acknowledge lacking the motivation towards educating themselves in politics or joining causes in hopes of making the U. S. better. Anderson, another one of the students, believes that this democracy is as inclusive as most governments can become, however, “whatever changes that occur are not for the general public to decide,” as that is not where the power of this nation lies. Half of the interviewees believe that the current changes in the government are not improving it for the common people.
The other half notes that the government structure is still the same, with the only thing having changed being the modern day advantage. However, the system, itself, seems to be outdated and difficult to work with in this modern day. Many of the students believe that majority of the power in this country reside with the wealthy. Some expressed remorse over the fact that in the United States, real change takes money, and that is something many youths do not have. Thus, this is a huge factor in why the younger generations often appear apathetic towards politics.
People want to involve themselves in something where their participation counts. As the interviewer, I did find myself occasionally giving away my own position or stance on democracy. For instance, I realized that I would nod or agree much more enthusiastically with Christian than I did when I was interviewing Julian, who was not very attentive towards politics. I kept my opinions to myself while discussing with several others as well, since that could have the potential of swaying their opinions or causing them to shut down their real thoughts.
My objective was to identify their beliefs, not project mine onto them. While I do not agree that the current government is in the textbook definition of a democracy, most of the students accepted that immediately once I asked what they thought of the current democracy. Having observed this, I asked for their party affiliation at the end of each interview. It came at no surprise that everyone who emphasized the importance of democracy was a democratic or swung left. For the most part, these students do seem to care about the current state of their government.
With the exception of two, every single other student tried to give thoughtful answers. While they are not necessarily apathetic, most of them agreed they would not go too far out of their ways to join movements or involve themselves in politics. And even though there is a varied spectrum of beliefs, the students understand there are still many flaws in the way our government functions. These students are not blind to what is happening in politics, despite what the general stigma towards youth involvement in government is.
In some ways, it is quite contradictory in how the younger generation is supposedly the most apathetic, when so many are aware. Given the proper opportunities and chances, I believe that my generation would participate and make changes. Youths may seem as if they do not care for politics, however, if everyone is better educated about how the systems actually work, how to better them, and how to adapt the government to varying situations, I believe that other youths will project different attitudes towards the state of our current government.