It can be easy to think that simply voting is doing your part, regardless of if you really understand what you’re voting for; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Obviously, voting is an important right that should be exercised by all, but it is just as important to understand and be aware of what you’re voting for. Mindlessly checking boxes on a ballot simply to say that you’ve voted and to get your “I Voted” sticker could be detrimental to the outcome of a vote and/or election if enough of the voters aren’t aware of what they’re doing.
The best and certainly most recent example of this sentiment is what many are referring to as the “Brexit,” or, the British exit. This term refers to the referendum that occurred on Thursday, June 23, in which British citizens voted to leave the European Union. Almost immediately following the referendum, shockwaves were sent through global markets and currencies, which in turn caused the British pound to plummet to its lowest value in decades.
Soon after news of the Brexit broke, Google Trends reported that shortly after the referendum polls closed in the UK, there was a +250% spike in the question “what happens if we leave the EU” searched on Google. Additional searches about the referendum and even the EU itself suggested either a certain level of ignorance among British voters, or a strong yearning for an understanding of what they had just participated in by voting.
Top questions searched on the referendum included:
1. “How do I vote in the EU referendum?”
2. “What is ‘Brexit’?”
3. “Who can vote in the EU referendum?”
4. “When is the EU referendum?”
5. “Where can I vote?”
Top questions searched on the European Union included:
1. “Why should we stay in the EU?”
2. “Why should we leave the EU?”
3. “What will happen if we leave?”
4. “Who won the EU debate?”
5. “Which countries are in the EU?”
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that Google Trends isn’t able to tell us specific information about the searchers themselves. Helpful information in this scenario would have included if they were voters, if they were even eligible to vote, whether they were part of the Leave or Remain campaign, and how many people the data released even accounted for. The search numbers found by Google Trends are reported “relatively within the date-range and in context of other trends,” according to Medium.
Essentially, it’s likely that a number of the Brits who did conduct a post-vote search about the EU were simply trying to learn more about the specific referendum they had just taken part in. Although, it is still greatly important and certainly ideal to go into the polls informed about what you’re voting for. Being uninformed about the choice you’re faced with and unprepared to cast an intelligent and confident vote is dangerous for the outcome. Because of a certain degree of a lack of understanding, Britain made a decision that has the potential to be quite dangerous on the global scale. Since the vote, many Brits themselves have publically voiced their regret over making the wrong choice and fear that they made an irreversible mistake.
An important fact to be aware of is that the Brexit additionally impacted [and will continue to affect] the United States. Many are under the impression that Americans don’t need to be concerned with the outcome of the referendum. Even countless political leaders in other countries are trying to convince the U.S. of this; however, that also could not be further from the truth.
America’s export sector has played a monumental role in recovery efforts from the infamous ’07-’08 economic crisis. This same sector has also suffered drastically over the years from Europe’s less than inspiring sales recently and slow growth, in addition to facing the effects of the dollar’s slight strength in comparison to the rather weak euro. In time, the Brexit will only enhance these already negative effects that the U.S. has been facing, especially due to the pound’s recent plunge in value [as a result of the Brexit] and the expectation of the euro to fall against the dollar.
Additionally, Britain is the main route by which the U.S. expresses itself politically and economically in Europe. Therefore, Britain leaving the EU will make it significantly harder for Americans to include their agendas on “trade, digital privacy, global tax reform and such,” in Europe, according to Time.
Probably one of the most significant and instantaneous effects of the Brexit on the U.S. will come from the Federal Reserve. The Fed has remained hesitant to hike interest rates due to the unrest in Europe, and the Brexit will likely lead them to continue this for much longer than desired and planned.
Uninformed voting is an ideal opportunity to bring to light the importance of civics education. The study of our rights and duties as citizens is just as important [and in some cases, probably a bit more important] as the other subjects taught to students. If our world’s education systems aren’t properly teaching the future generations of voters about the importance of being informed and prepared prior to voting, issues such as the Brexit will undoubtedly happen again. If we constantly teach the importance of exercising your right to vote and making your voice heard to make a difference, then we need to be teaching to inform yourself before you vote as well. Educate yourself first, and then cast your vote.
“I’d go so far as to say it’s [civics] more important than other subjects. Most students choose their classes and their majors to serve themselves or their careers. A good civics education may not have a direct effect on a student’s earnings potential or employability, but it would certainly have an affect on the community’s well being, future direction, etc.,” stated Assistant Professor of English Dr. Chris Friend. “Other subjects help students learn how to do whatever that one subject is about. Civics is, at its core, all about getting along with others and supporting a community. Those skills seem universally necessary,” continued Friend.
The importance of being informed prior to voting could not be more prevalent in today’s day and age, as our nation is on the brink of the most pivotal presidential election in our history. Potential voters need to be informed about the candidates and issues they’re going to be presented with at the polls, because it is not going to be as simple as checking one candidate or the other.
We are also in the midst of numerous congressional races all across the country and have the power to completely change who represents our states in Congress in the upcoming primary elections. Additionally, there are always specific issues on the ballots to be voted on such as the legalization of marijuana and sales tax increases, depending on the specific state.
This issue also brings up the decision to not vote. People can be intimidated by their lack of understanding of the candidates/ issues at hand or they simply lack the desire to exercise their right or the concern for the political process. These factors have the ability to convince people to refrain from voting altogether. But which is worse, being uninformed but voting anyways or not voting at all?
“They’re equally bad. Not voting at all is an indictment against the voter; uninformed voting is an indictment against the system,” stated Friend. “If someone chooses not to vote, that person essentially says that their views are unimportant. They opt-out of their inherent influence. That’s a pretty bold statement for someone to make within a political system designed to protect and support its citizens,” he added. “If someone votes without being informed, it shows a lack of concern — on the part of the voter and the candidates. The voter chose not to do research, or the candidates failed to market their positions sufficiently. When voters cast uninformed ballots, we set ourselves up for scary results. The televised reactions to Brexit are only the most recent example.”
The time that we’re in and the people that could potentially get elected to run our nation’s government are all too important to go into the polls blind. If voters are educated on the candidates and issues they’ll be faced with deciding among and are confident in the choices they’re going to make, we’ll have the ability to make positive change beneficial to the country as a whole.