I cannot let this week go by without posting something about the elections that were held here yesterday. I cannot even begin to understand the whole political system here – I just about know that Obama is a Democrat (lower case or uppercase D?). There is a senate and a house of representatives and you vote for people, not parties. You elect judges and coroners and everything is political. Or something. (KoD has tried, diligently, to educate me on politics. My head can only hold so much information at a time ;) )

Anyhoo. Is it just me, or are Americans much more politically knowledgeable than other nations? There isn’t a Shabbat table that we have sat around that hasn’t discussed American politics. The TwitterVerse was abuzz yesterday with “I voted, did you” tweets etc.

In the interests of full disclosure, I think I voted once. I turned 18 in the UK, and maybe I voted in an election? Not sure, it was so long ago. I never took out Canadian citizenship, so never voted in Montreal either. When I can apply for US Citizenship, believe me I will be first in line. I hope by then the politics will make sense to me. I plan to exercise my right to vote.

So – here’s the question again. Are Americans more politically savvy or do they just care more?

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  1. mrsmelissasg says:

    I think its a bit of both.
    There is also a lot of pressure on younger people to vote and to get a larger voter turnout in general… It may also be that your world has a lot of educated people in it, and those tend to be the people who also take the time to learn about our political system and how we can have a part in it – however small it may seem.

  2. Rishona says:

    Americans are definitely NOT more political savvy! They are however very susceptible to influence from the press and media. That and you are right, we do vote for a lot of different people — to put them into a lot of positions — and on state constitutional ammendments! So it definitely does matter.

    I’m not familiar enough with the political process in other countries…but here, Americans take great pride in the right to vote. Mainly because for a long time, several segments of our population were not even allowed to vote (i.e. women and Blacks). However we tend to have low voter turnout overall….as apathy in the entire political process has grown.

    I think the heyday for Americans and political involvement was the period from 1960 until 1980. That was the American voting populace at it’s prime….before things became so ‘corporate’.

  3. Canuck says:

    I travel in highly political circles, so part of me wants to question the premise of your question, in part because Canadians historically have had higher voter turnout (64 to 75%, with a drop in turnout throughout the 90s) than the Americans (50%-ish, except for midterm elections, which are 30%-ish) almost perpetually since the 1950s…. Heck, the Ontarian municipal elections last week saw turnout of 44% (Ottawa) and 53% (Toronto). The data for yesterday’s midterm election isn’t in yet.

    and the other part, the part that knows that most Canadians do not understand their own political system and “calque” it onto the American system and vice versa, makes me want to accept your assumption….

    As a brief rundown: Canada also has a Senate and a Hosue, and we also vote for people instead of parties, but we do not have elected judges (madness) or dogcatchers. The Senate is appointed in Canada, and elected in America. The Senate in both is essentially equivalent to the House of Lords. In Canada, the House of Commons is equivalent to… the House of Commons. In America, unlike in Canada/the UK, the President (prime minister) has no power over Congress (Parliament), and no right to even enter the building unless invited. In America, it’s a two-party system. Democrat with an Uppercase D; Republican (or “GOP,” for “Grand Ol’ Party”) with an upper-case R unless you’re talking about revolutionary France and the “republican forces” or 1919-1921 Russia and the “democratic Whites.”

    (A ‘calque’ is a translation term for when you’re translating word-for-word instead of by meaning.)

  4. Meg says:

    American election cycles tend to last a lot longer than in other democratic countries, so politics becomes more intrusive here. As I joked to my friend, 4 months from now the 2012 presidential campaign will start. I don’t know if you watch mainstream American TV or listen to mainstream American radio, but the ads have been absolutely incessant; you can’t escape them. The night before the election, my mother and I watched the evening news for 27 minutes. We counted 19 political ads, 2 network promos and no other ads. It is incredibly wearing.

    I know that Canadian election cycles are much, much shorter, with campaigns only lasting a couple of months.

  5. HaSafran says:

    Here’s a disturbing statistic for you: Meg Whitman spent more money in her now-failed campaign for California Governor than the yearly budget for the National Endowment for the Arts – over $160 MILLION.

  6. tesyaa says:

    I thought politics in the UK was down & dirty and a big deal? Maybe you’re just viewing things through a different lens?

  7. Nora says:

    My guess is that the average voter isn’t better informed so much as better advertised to. And, as Meg said, our election cycles are ridiculously long.

    As for caring more- I think it’s a cultural thing. My family is politically active and just assumes everyone votes. We talk about politics and parties and voting and government all the time. I’m also a (relatively) recent college grad with lots of politically active friends and a strong commitment to social justice. My husband hates voting, though, because he thinks everyone in politics is a hypocrite.

  8. Mark says:

    Hadassah, there are a lot of structural differences that exist from state to state. In MA, we do not elect judges or medical examiners. We elect constitutional officers (Gov/Lt.Gov, Treasurer, Secretary, Auditor) and Governor’s Councillors every 4 years and Legislators (Senator and Representative) every 2 years. Then, there are county officers that vary in term and by county. As for political savvy of Americans, I don’t think there is an abundance of that. While there is an abundance of news available for popular consumption, much of it is more like entertainment than it is informative. If people learn from sound bytes, then they are doomed to ignorance. There are too many details to consume and comprehend. It is easy to distill ideology, policy, and situations for easy consumption, but it is bound to be prejudicial. I think that people are largely ignorant to the point that they don’t vote because they don’t care and they don’t even know who the players are. There are also very savvy political operatives out there who know how to feed off this ignorance and fear that exist especially at a time of great economic uncertainty and insecurity. Republicans have long done this, and the Tea Part is a manifestation of this run wild. Likewise, American society is increasingly becoming individual oriented and not community oriented, so people are susceptible to arguments for low or no taxation because of “waste” without considering the costs – our taxes pay for our schools, libraries, roads, emergency services, social services, etc. So much for my $.02.

  9. No. Most Americans are NOT politically savvy. As a woman who actually does know what she’s talking about, I can tell you for a fact that most Americans have absolutely no clue what they’re saying. All they’re doing is parroting what someone else says (be it Jon Steward, Stephen Colbert, Rush Limbaugh, their parents, their teachers…whoever). I find that usually the people who are talking the loudest are usually the most ignorant as to what’s going on. Just because they talk about something a lot doesn’t mean that they have any clue what’s going on. Most people who talk about it don’t even know the kind of system we have and how it works. Trust me, it makes me really sad to say this, but Americans have absolutely NO clue what they’re talking about.

  10. I would actually argue that plenty of Americans have NO IDEA what is going on & don’t care a bit. Perhaps you follow a lot of good ones who do? I worked in D.C. for three years, & it was like a different world – everyone knew, everyone cared, everyone was up in arms. Back here in Ohio, people spout blind rhetoric & empty campaign quotes without having any idea what they mean or their political implications. People can’t name any of the Supreme Court justices, have no idea how many members there are of the House or Senate, and seriously think the new health care plan includes “death panels” that will decide whether senior citizens & people with disabilities should live or die.

  11. ERICA says:

    The statement that “Americans have no clue what they’re talking about” is an overgeneralization, and one I actually find offensive. Political wisdom and ignorance exist in all countries, America included.
    My impression (as someone who has resided in and been a citizen of both the US and Canada) is that more Americans are more passionate about politics and the political process than is the case in certain other countries. I have my own theories about why I think this is so.
    Note that I said this is my impression, based on my own experiences.
    No one, not even someone who says she “knows what she is talking about” can sum up the the collective political wisdom of the entire nation.
    I think it’s way too easy to bash American and Americans. Often the people that do this are the same people that benefit from and enjoy the blessings of live here.
    P.S. to Jewish Journey: The host of “The Daily Show” is Jon Stewart. not Jon “Steward”.

  12. Ari says:

    Given the historically low voter turnout rates, I’d say we Americans are fairly apathetic when it comes to politics, but enjoy the bloodsport and spectacle of electioneering. As for why your posse is perhaps more tuned in to politics, I’d chalk it up to being of a better educated demographics. And you now live in a fairly Byzantine part of the country, with overlapping municipalities such as towns, villages and counties — each with their own bureaucratic structure: trustees, mayors, council members, supervisors. And let’s not forget state assembly / house of representatives and state senate as minature versions of those federal institutions. Politics is a whole industry unto itself. Fun!

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