Where Has Civic Identity Gone?

November 5, 2018

The voter turnout for the 2016 Presidential election showed that only 58% of eligible voters turned out for the election. This is up only ½ of a percent from 2012 which was 57.5%.  Correlating with the drop in voter turnout Americans also participate less in social groups and activities that enhance their civic identity and skills needed to be able to participate in political activities such as grassroots efforts and protests. Joining voluntary associations such as clubs and groups that come together for a common goal gives members a chance to enhance trust between one another and to learn skills that allow them to organize and mobilize groups for a particular cause of action. America use to be a nation of joiners. After WWII there was a club or committee for everything. From fixing potholes in town to a committee to get a neighborhood swimming pool. These groups and committees allowed for citizens to cultivate trust and civic skills such as setting up events, protests, gaining petition signatures, and forming a campaign to achieve something and apply them to the civic sphere. As adults participate less and less in this voluntary organizations so to do they not participate in the civic sphere anymore. Whether it be not turning out to vote, voice their opinion at a town meeting, or joining political protest, the number of citizens that participate has fallen.


Out of the many reasons that people don’t turn out to voice their opinions in politics the most important is they feel that their opinions and voice go unheard by those that are supposed to be listening to them which diminishes trust between one another. The social-capital or trust that is built between one another to join groups, work towards a common goal, or to vote is missing. Whether it be that their representative is taking in money from big corporations and doing what they want or a committee wont listen to you simply because their view doesn’t match yours. Why voice opinions if they know they are not going to be heard, why take the time? 


People nowadays are also so over opinionated that they do not let others who have differing opinions to voice them. Not allowing for a calm and collective debate to find solutions to problems does not allow for a critical trusting bond to be made. Citizens want to participate more when they trust that what they have to say is being taken into consideration when an outcome to a problem is being deliberated. When they are not heard they more or less feel alone and think to themselves “why should I trust you to do this for me.” Likewise they feel like their vote doesn’t matter because their representative is not listening to them.


When citizens voices are not represented either by voting or in a committee of some sort  it undermines our democracy. Therefore it makes it so only the majority is heard and not the minority. Ostracizing the minority because their views do not add up to the majorities and for the sheer fact that they are in the minority makes them not want to vote or voice their opinion because it won’t matter anyways, they think that no matter what they are going to lose.


Another reason that people do not vote or participate in the public sphere is because their distrust in the government. After the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal people starting distrusting the government which in turn made them withdraw from participating in government activities. The citizens during the times of Vietnam and Watergate held the grudge that the government lied to them and passed this grudge onto their children.

There are many ways that we can turn this around and get more citizens to enter the civic sphere to gain trust between one another, to listen to one another, and the necessary skills to campaign, protest, and set up grassroots mobilization. Firstly it all starts out with youths, their parents, and their political environment. Parents who shun politics in the household or do not allow for debate on current and ongoing issues show their children at a young age to not voice their opinions outloud. These children are also less inclined like their parents before them to join voluntary organizations that bolster civic skills and trust. These organizations like student council and social clubs all have positive impacts on skills needed to gain civic identity and build trust with each other to accomplish tasks. Being able to debate a problem in student council to find a solution to a school wide problem allows for  students to build trust with one another. Even if the outcome is not satisfactory for one group knowing that they were listen to makes them more inclined to voice their opinions on other topics. They can then take this trust into their adult lives and have the sense that they can voice their opinions or vote without being alienated.  Parents should allow their children to ask questions about the political atmosphere of our country and when they can they should answer these questions to the best of their knowledge.


Public Education should be teaching our children civic skills in the classroom as well. Promoting debate and not limiti