Sunday, February 15, 2009

So, is it Really Just a Popularity Contest?

Following up on my wishful thinking on the student government elections at Western and my annoyed rant at partisan thinking, I got to thinking about the system in general. Is it really possible for politics to be anything but a popularity contest? (Image: The Huffington Post) If the answer is yes, how can anything ever get done without trying to win over or trick the public? What would make democracy not merely a popularity contest? Would it be viable? It really does open a can of worms to ask these questions.

I would take the position of many scholars who study the effects of media on democracy regarding the question of how there can be democracy in today's society. Simply put, this argument is that the voting public needs to be educated about the issues. The problem becomes that the educator in society on such issues is the media, which undoubtably has a bias.

Some believe that the Internet is a solution to the issue of bias because balance will result from the combination of many ideas and contributors. The general idea of this theory makes sense. There are problems, as I mentioned in an earlier post, due to an echo-chamber effect forming isolated groups of readers. In my opinion, the onus is on the citizen to break from these groups and educate themselves about all sides of the issue.

In democracy I believe the responsibility is in the hands of the citizen when all the tools exists because it would be undemocratic to force breadth on someone. They need to actively choose to venture onto other sites and seek out other opinions. Whether they do it to reinforce their own view or with a genuinely open mind doesn't matter. What matters is that they pay enough attention to be an informed voter.

If the information isn't available, the citizen is responsible to demand it. In this day of convoluted government and a mediating press, the citizen needs to be made aware that they are who the government answers to. They have a right to know and need to make themselves informed. The viability of a system of informed votes is driven by citizens. If they want their elections to be any more than popularity contests they need to step up.