Trump vs. Clinton, Clinton vs. Trump.
Yup, we’re all sick of it. For the past nineteen months, when Senator Ted Cruz became the first official candidate to announce his candidacy for President of the United States, Americans have been bombarded with politics, and many have tuned out. Sure, the frenzy that surrounded the Donald Trump campaign (which in all honesty felt more like a season of The Apprentice rather than a presidential campaign), kept some Americans engaged, if only for the entertainment value. On the other side of the aisle was the inevitable crowning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which was only postponed due to the sudden infatuation that millennials had with Senator Bernie Sanders.
Fast-forward through a grueling primary season, both on the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle, and alas, the top candidates to represent their respective parties are none other than businessman/reality-TV star Donald Trump and former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
If we were to travel back in time to the summer of 2015 and tell our former selves that Trump and Clinton were going to be the two major party nominees, we would likely laugh and yet not be shocked in the slightest. Why?
The average voter just isn’t that informed.
According to a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, just one out of four Americans could name all three branches of government and a meager one out of three Americans couldn’t name even one single branch.
But wait! There’s more!
- Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) incorrectly said that the Constitution gives the President the power to declare war. Just more than half (54 percent) knew that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.
- A vast majority (83 percent) correctly said that the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise taxes.
- While a majority (77 percent) know that the Constitution says that Congress cannot establish an official religion, almost 1 in 10 agreed with the statement that the Constitution says, “Congress can outlaw atheism because the United States is one country under God.” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center stated that, “[the] Lack of basic civics knowledge is worrisome and an argument for an increased focus on civics education in the schools.”
Since STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) education has taken over as the focal point in many curricula across America, the focus on basic civics and social studies has become somewhat of an afterthought, with only bullet-points addressing key concepts and facts regarding our political systems and important moments in history. This has lead to the “dumbing down” of most American students when it comes to important social and civic issues.
This isn’t to say that the likes of STEM education are not important. Yet when students go through the educational system without garnering basic concepts of American history and the functions and structure of government, this is a recipe for disaster.
And here we are: Trump vs. Clinton.
While many voters will be able to list off what happened in the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians or who won this past weekend’s NFL games, many of those same individuals aren’t able to correctly answer the tenets of the two leading presidential candidates’ platforms nor the significance of aforementioned platforms.
With buzzwords and catchphrases like “Make America Great Again!” and “I’m with Her,” rhetoric filled policy speeches, and the reality-show approach the media has taken with regards to this presidential campaign, we have been ultimately left with two candidates who represent the epitome of your average, low-information, civics ignorant, and rhetoric inspired voter.
This is not to say these voters aren’t passionate, nor is it to say they are completely misinformed. However, in many cases, they are easily manipulated, as their political leanings are often triggered by emotion rather than logic. From the emotional appeal of those who simply want to build a wall offered by Trump to the emotional appeal of voting for the first woman president offered by Clinton, many voters, policy be damned, will be voting based on those emotional appeals alone.
Trump was particularly successful in his appeal to the low-information voter in his rise to the top. With GOP stars like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker, in any other year, Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance. Because of his brash use of rhetoric and populism along with the uncertain political climate, Trump was able to attract the low-information voter, and thus took out those policy-minded candidates who would have most likely carried their party’s banner into November.
To be clear: this is not a condemnation of Trump and Clinton supporters. Many are simply afraid of what will happen to the country if the other candidate wins. Many primary voters who supported other candidates have fallen in line behind their party’s nominee simply based on that fact alone. Ted Cruz, who just a few weeks ago told voters to “vote their conscience,” fell in line behind Trump, also based on fear (in Cruz’s case, the fear of what a Clinton presidency would do to the Supreme Court).
In conclusion, it is without question that the lack of civics and history in our educational system has created the situation that we currently face as a nation. While there are millions of Americans who are educated on political and civic issues who can have an open and honest debate based on policy, they are vastly outnumbered by those who base their political knowledge and positions on emotion and rhetoric alone.