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Voting & Other Forms of Political Participation: Influences, Costs & Benefits

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  • 0:02 Political Participation
  • 0:53 Voting
  • 2:42 Other Forms of Participation
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore some of the forms of political participation that are common in the United States, including voting. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Political Participation

Staying politically active is not something that this generation really has a problem doing. In our online world, we are constantly reading, commenting, and musing on political happenings. And that's good; it's good to stay informed. However, this is only half of the battle. Our government requires political participation from the people. When the founding figures of the United States began to put together our government back in the 1780s, they made sure that the people always had power over the government.

Officials are elected by the people, laws can be changed, states have their own governments, and the people can vote to remove or give power to the federal government. That's why we are a democracy, a system where decisions are made by the majority of votes. The people can make important political decisions, but the system only works if they stay informed and continue to participate.

Voting

In America, the most common form of political participation is voting. Any citizen over 18 years old can vote and is expected to. Voting is the most powerful system in our government that protects the power of the people. Many things we decide as a nation are done through direct voting, which is when individual citizens vote and the majority of votes determines the outcome. Say there is a new law in your state government that makes it illegal to chew gum while walking. The politicians think that this law will protect people who are bad at multitasking. However, most people think that whether or not they chew gum while walking should be their own decision. The people vote on the new law and 75% of people vote against it. The law is struck down, and it remains legal to chew gum while walking.

That's one form of voting. However, there are far too many issues in government for us to vote on every single one. There are also too many people. We'd spend so much time voting and counting votes that we would never have time for anything else. So, we vote to elect officials who represent us in most government matters. This system of government is called a republic. Since we directly vote to elect our representatives, the United States is considered a democratic republic.

Here's how this works. Let's imagine that there is a town called Studyburg, in the state of New Studyshire, which is a republic. The people of Studyburg hold an election to select the official who will best represent their interests. Then, this official goes to the state government and votes on issues on behalf of the entire town of Studyburg. The people do not directly vote on these issues, but they know their opinions are still being represented by their elected official. We use this style of voting very often in the United States, from judges to governors to members of Congress.

Other Forms of Participation

Voting is the most common way for people to participate in politics. However, there are other ways as well. One form of participation is through special interest groups, or private organizations that work towards creating a specific political change. Special interest groups are focused around a single issue, such as the environment, and organize support for that cause. They may hand out pamphlets or organize events to raise public awareness, or maybe sign petitions to encourage people to support a specific candidate.

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