It is like a gnat. An annoying, incessant buzz in your ear. From September to November, during an election year, you cannot open your phone or turn on the TV without getting ads encouraging you to vote. It is unending. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube; ads are plastered all over these sites and while it may be irrational, you can become resentful.
Most of them feature some celebrity who encourages and preaches about the importance of voting and, if we happen to be truly unlucky, the pseudo-intellectual will then dare to tell the average viewer who to vote for.
If you are anything like myself, it is truly maddening that an out-of-touch, vapid millionaire would lecture the public on morals and politics. Frankly, the average actor or singer likely knows just about as much on world affairs and political science as the average American. The only difference is that you do not see accountants, cashiers, construction workers or chefs making ads in which they claim to know definitively why Donald Trump or Joe Biden is the best candidate.
Now, it is understood that American culture creates a sort of quasi-worship of celebrities and their faces are meant to be tools to help drive up votership. However, that does not make it any less pandering and inauthentic.
For example, actress Jennifer Lawrence recently made a post on Instagram encouraging voting, and in particular, for Joe Biden, though her preference in candidate is inconsequential. Therein lies the issue. Lawrence is estimated to be worth around $130 million and yet people are so quick to spring to applause for her being so “in touch with American society.” Much like the recent outrage over celebrities participating in the cover of "Imagine" by John Lennon, it is further evident that actors, singers and models should not presume to lecture the public on politics. Their personal opinions are as valid as any average American and their vote is of equal importance as an average citizen’s vote.
As of late, the wealthy of this country who obtain small amounts of public fame outside of the entertainment industry have been heavily criticized for their feeble and inauthentic attempts to sympathize with the working class. Why is this not extended to vapid entertainers, who from their multi-million dollar homes in Beverly Hills, stare out from their decadence and deceive the nation, as if they have key political insights?
Despite their evident elitism, people are still influenced by these public figureheads and form their opinions based on their favorite entertainers — entertainers who do not have to file for unemployment, or worry about if rent will be able to be paid next month’s rent payment. This lack of political awareness combined with celebrity worship is a growing problem. It notes a particular ignorance that is bubbling in some areas of the nation, which is concerning, to say the least.
This is only a symptom of a larger issue with American society. Recently, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of UPenn ran their Civics Knowledge Survey, which produced troubling results. Out of 1,009 individuals, only 51 percent could name the three branches of government, and a staggering 23 percent could not name any. In addition, 19 percent could not name any of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, and only 42 percent named freedom of press.
Voting in the Election
So, how could that uninspiring national literacy in American government affect voting, especially here in Wisconsin? Well, there are a few things that inform how someone votes. First, there is the emotional reaction to the candidates, which consists of both the voter’s own morality and simple facts about the candidate — if they smile when they talk, dress well or have pleasant demeanor.
Second, life experience informs voters. If a candidate has a background which voters can identify with, whether it be a military history, blue collar means or racial/sexual backgrounds, it will have a positive effect on a candidate’s chances, increasing the grip of identity politics in the country.
Last, there is the broad understanding of US Government and world affairs. That is where the trap door beneath our feet drops and we plummet into free fall of ignorance. For example, based on a survey from Gallup, it seems that less than half of Americans have an adequate understanding of conflicts in the Middle East that involve our nation, or could even point Middle Eastern countries out on a map Evidently, the lack of knowledge regarding domestic issues extends to Americans’ understanding regarding worldwide issues as well.
There will always be Americans who travel to a ballot box and circle the name of the candidate with the warmest smile or the most fitting suit. They may very well be nice people, but we as a society should aspire to be more. As students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, voting should neither be a chore nor a decision we make by persuasion from our favorite character on a Netflix sitcom.
This is not a lecture on the merits of partaking in our republic. You should vote, but you already know that. There is a common misconception with the college student demographic that your vote doesn't matter. Maybe if you were a Republican voting in Massachusetts, or a Democrat voting in Alabama it would not matter, but we are registered voters in a highly contested battleground state with massive implications on the election. Wisconsin, one of the four key battleground states, is currently embroiled in a fierce battle between the candidates for supremacy — and our votes decide that.
However, do not do it because of the massive social pressure, or because a writer from The Daily Cardinal says you should. Do it because you have a civic obligation that you want to fulfill.
Before you choose your candidate, do some research. Try to separate yourself from the undoubtedly millions of voters who cast their ballot on an uneducated guess. Then, vote.
If you support Donald Trump and want him to continue his time in office, make your voice heard. If you support Joe Biden and yearn for an alternate approach to the Presidency, make your voice heard. Even though people will tell you your vote doesn’t matter, make your voice heard. It doesn't matter who you support, but it does matter that you take an active and educated role in society.
Ian-Michael is a freshman studying Political Science and Journalism. For voting information, please check https://iwillvote.com/. Send all comments to email@example.com.
Ian-Michael Griffin is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and a member of the Editorial Board.