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The Pew Research Center may have just moved me one step closer to resolving a mystery that’s bothered me for quite some time.
The mystery: Why do so many Americans vote against their own self-interest?
That is to say, why would low- and middle-income voters elect politicians who consistently work to reduce taxes on the wealthiest among us -- who then counterbalance the loss in tax revenues by slashing public programs and services that benefit the vast majority of Americans?
The answer: I have seen the enemy...and he is us!
Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll on the US Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Obama health-care law and found that 30 percent of those polled had no idea how the Supreme Court had ruled on the law. An additional 15 percent believed that the court had rejected most of the law’s provisions.
In short, when it came to one of the most important and critical issues of our time—and despite what seemed to many as 24/7 news coverage—nearly half of those polled were unaware of, or could care less about what was going on.
If this is an accurate snapshot of the voting public, we’re in deep do-do.
Consumers vs. Citizens
Fact is we’ve evolved into better consumers than we are citizens.
We know more about, and are far more interested in, the comings and goings of Justin Bieber and Brangelina than we are in the important issues of our day.
Nearly two decades ago, American author, media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman made the observation that: “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”
Well, I fear we’ve gone beyond the verge and are toying with societal and political suicide, and the future doesn’t look much brighter.
The Pew poll also found that among 18-to-29-year-olds, 43 percent didn’t know anything about the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare -- and another 20 percent thought the court had ruled against most of the tenets of the law.
So how does all this relate to people voting against their own self-interest?
Uniformed voters are far more susceptible to being influenced by myriad sound bytes of politicians and their parties that are so adept at creating -- regardless of the accuracy of the information these sound bytes spew.
Consequently, low-information voters are far more emotional and knee-jerk than they are educated and contemplative on important political issues.
For example, it’s a lot easier to understand the concept of “death panels” than it is the complexity of the Affordable Healthcare Act, or to get behind the idea of “no new taxes” (after all, who likes to pay taxes?) than to understand the economic and social implications of such an ideological imperative.
The obscene amount of money being poured into this year’s political campaigns—on the national, state and local levels—provides both parties the opportunity to create sound bytes galore, leaving no doubt why raising funds is so crucial to the success of any campaign. But Citizens United and campaign finance reform are issues unto themselves.
Bottom line: before we can change our systems, we need to change ourselves. We need to become better, more educated and more engaged citizens.
After all, we get the government we deserve.
Contents © 2012 by Larry Cheeco
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Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications. His latest book is entitled Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand. Checco Communications is a consulting firm that specializes in branding. It helps organizations clearly define who they are, what they do, how they do it and, most importantly, why anyone should care enough to support them.. Click here for full bio.
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