Apathetic Politics

by Colin Evans

Since Gallup began polling on the question “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?”, the majority of Americans have said “approve” for a mere 22 out of 318 times polled. The last time was April of 2003.[1]

According to a recent CNN poll, only 37% of Americans currently approve of the Democratic party, while 30% approve of the Republican party.[2]

President Donald Trump holds an aggregated 37.6% approval rating, down from its highest point of 47.8% just days after his inauguration.[3]

George Washington, our nation’s first President, in his farewell address, warned us of the dangers of political parties:

“They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force;”

Political parties divide us, argues Washington.

“to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community;”

Politicians put party before country, he suggests.

“and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.”[4]

Pay close attention to that last sentence. Washington is drawing a image here of what he believes government should be. He asks us to imagine a single branch of Congress as an organ, our entire government as a human body, carrying out the “mutual interests” that we aspire to. Unfortunately, such is not the reality.

Our Congresses of the past 10 sessions have passed only 66% as many laws as the previous 10 sessions.[5] Many of us remember the recent, drawn-out fights over everything from healthcare to budgets, in addition to the consequences of deadlock, such as the 2013 government shutdown. With such a frustratingly inefficient federal government on our hands, why do we refuse to change the system?

Despite Americans’ lack of faith in their recent leadership, there still seems to be an aversion to anything that deviates from our current system. Only 3 third-party candidates have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, 7 to the Senate, and none to the Presidency since 1971. What gives?

A large part of the answer has to do with gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to favor political parties and candidates (you can listen to my podcast on gerrymandering here). But another reason is that we have decided to settle for our two-party system. It seems as though any time the notion of voting for a third party is suggested, it is met with accusations from both sides that we are “throwing away votes”. We have become so entrenched in our idea of two parties controlling the government that the idea of casting one’s vote for an alternative is seen as an act of treachery. Third party voters are even held liable for the victory of one mainstream candidate over the other.

But if Americans are concerned with the idea of two parties controlling the system, then “throwing away” one’s vote for a third party is exactly what we should be doing. In the absence of ambitious leadership, Americans must prove to both parties that their death grip on our government is not assured. We must give our leaders a reason to serve: without the possibility of a candidate and the party at large being voted out the next cycle, there is no incentive to cultivate the interests of the people.

We cannot allow apathy to control our political attitudes. As long as we live under our group’s umbrella and refuse to walk out into the rain, we live in gridlock and are at the mercy of those in power. If we truly care about shaking up the political status quo, then we must be brave and aspire to what Washington calls “the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.”


[1] Congress and the Public

[2] Approval ratings for Democrats are at a new low during a crucial time for the party

[3] How Popular Is Donald Trump?

[4] Transcript of President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)

[5] Historical Statistics about Legislation in the U.S. Congress —

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