Shifting Power From Majority to Only a Few: Factors & Process

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  • 1:08 Voter Participation
  • 2:25 Single-Issue Voters
  • 3:05 Uninformed Citizens
  • 4:02 Nomination of Candidates
  • 5:02 Campaign Expense
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore factors that have shifted power from the majority of voters to specific groups. We'll pay special attention to voter participation, single-issue voters, uninformed citizens, the nomination of candidates, and campaign expenses.

A Major Shift

'What is going on in this country?' the political lecturer asks in his booming voice. 'Isn't America supposed to be a democracy? That means that the nation is governed by its people! But is that really the case anymore? Doesn't it seem to you that fewer and fewer people are actually participating in the political process?'

His audience listens with interest. They've noticed that, too. Fewer and fewer of their friends are interested in politics. Most of them don't vote or make an effort to understand the issues. Therefore, more and more political power seems to be ending up in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

The lecturer continues, 'Tonight I'm going to discuss several factors that contribute to this shift in power from the majority of voters to a few specific groups, and you are going to help me.' He calls 24 people up on stage and positions them in a group. They represent the majority of citizens that had once taken an active interest in the political process. These citizens have political power, which is the ability of individuals and groups to create and enforce policies and manage public resources.

Voter Participation

The lecturer jumps right in to a discussion of this first factor: voter participation, which refers to the number of voters who cast a ballot in an election.

'Have you ever noticed that not too many people are voting nowadays?' the lecturer asks. The audience nods. They had just been thinking the very same thing. 'Statistics tell us,' the lecturer continues, 'that in the presidential election years of the last couple decades, only 53% to 63% of eligible voters have turned out to vote. In non-presidential election years, that number hovers around 40% for general elections. The percentage is even lower for primaries. In most states, fewer than 20% of eligible voters actually show up for these.'

The lecturer then lists several reasons for this trend:

  • Lack of interest
  • The dislike of candidates or issues
  • Inconvenience
  • The hassle of registration
  • The perception that voting will not make a difference or that no one cares what voters think anyway
  • The problem of too many elections with too many candidates
  • The impression that the whole process is too negative and too party-driven

'In any case,' he concludes, 'when voters don't vote, the number of people with political power decreases.' He tells four audience members to sit down.

Single-Issue Voters

'Picture this,' the lecturer continues. 'A candidate knows that many of his constituents are focused on a single issue, in this case, the environment. He talks about that issue so much that his opponent must also concentrate on it, citing his own views on the matter.'

The single-issue voters, those who concentrate on just one concern to the exclusion of others, are happy with this arrangement. Other voters feel like their primary interests, perhaps the economy or civil rights, are left out of the conversation. They figure, 'Why vote? Why participate? No one seems to care about my concerns anyway.' The lecturer tells four more people to sit down.

Uninformed Citizens

'At least single-issue voters are informed about the political process,' the lecturer remarks. 'Many citizens are not, and this is a huge problem in America. If people are going to participate in the government, they need to know what's going on. They need to understand the issues and the political process. They need to study the candidates and their positions to make informed choices. But they don't!'

The lecturer cites a recent study in which a group of college seniors scored only an average of 54.2% on an exam that tested basic knowledge of American government. 'These students,' the lecturer explains, 'are supposed to be well-educated citizens, yet they are sorely lacking in their understanding of the political process. People are often so busy with their lives, work, family, and entertainment that political participation ends up very low on their list of priorities. Yet, how can they take control of their political power if they don't know much about it?' He tells four more people to sit down.

Nomination of Candidates

'So far we've been focusing on the voters,' the lecturer says, 'but what about the other side of the coin? Are there some problems in the political process that contribute to the shift in power from the majority to a few? I would answer yes!'

The lecturer invites his audience to reflect on the way in which candidates are nominated to run for office. Potential candidates, he explains, have to start raising money, gaining party support, and earning name recognition about two years before their first primary election. Then, they must win at least one primary election to earn their party's nomination. Only then can they prepare for the general election.

'This is a complex and expensive process,' the lecturer notes, 'and it discourages some qualified candidates from participating. Furthermore, as we've seen, only a few voters participate in the nomination process by voting in primary elections. Fewer candidates and fewer voters means a narrower exercise of political power.' Four more audience members sit down.

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