The run down on being a Democrat (or a Republican)

Picture this. It’s Election Day. You wake up bright and early on November 6th to get to the polls before class. You wait in line, sign your name, and receive that long-awaited ballot. You stare at the names, maybe only recognizing two. (The ones with the words REPUBLICAN and DEMOCRATIC hovering over them.) You haven’t been very involved with recent election developments, aren’t that politically interested in general for that matter…and now, you’re stuck.

In truth, this is pretty unlikely. Even the most politically apathetic person in the country (with some education) usually has at least party identification going for them. The chances of someone in our country not having at least a vague idea of candidate preference, based on either family practices or other forms of socialization, are minute. In fact, at any given point during a presidential election in the U.S., there are only about 6% of voters who don’t know who they are voting for come Election Day. This is true today, just a few weeks before the election, and even a few months ago. But let’s say you’re conflicted, let’s say you don’t know enough to make an informed decision, or even that you don’t know which candidate is Republican and which is Democratic (very, very, unlikely). What’s an undecided to do?

On average, just under a third of the American electorate doesn’t officially subscribe to a major party affiliation. That means that more than two-thirds of the voting age population describe themselves as either Republicans or Democrats – this number is just around 90% in the 21st century. In the 2008 election, 99% of the popular vote went to either Barack Obama or John McCain. In Italy’s 2008 parliamentary election, the top two political parties (out of seven major ones) received only 70% of the popular vote.

The benefit of having the two-party system we’ve been accustomed to in the U.S. is that we, for all intents and purposes, have two options. You either vote for one of the two major parties, or consign to the fact that your vote will not be for the winner. The disadvantage of having a two-party system is that there are two, and only two, major candidates. It means, arguably, that we are forced to proscribe to one set of beliefs or another. To accept all aspects of an ideology as our own, to call ourselves liberals, or call our selves conservatives, and lastly, to vote accordingly.

The most potent force for party identification in our society is socialization. Mostly by our parents, often by our peers, and sometimes by major political events that occur during our lifetimes. Party ID is a way of simplifying the decision of voting someone into office, to help reduce that number of undecideds. But is that our way out? Should we get a free pass once we choose a side and join the team faithfully?

That kind of blind trust in the system could either be considered courageous, or downright idiotic. To say that both Democrats and Republicans have set ideological platforms is an understatement. But at the same time, it’s up to citizens to keep our President and representatives in line, and to use our voice to shape policy, instead of letting our opinions fall to the wayside.

So the answer to the question of helping undecideds, is, essentially, that there isn’t an answer. To use party identification is reasonable, to only use party alliance is regrettable, and to figure out a compromise between your beliefs and the beliefs of your party is courageous. That middle ground is what differentiates an undecided from an informed and valuable voter, and what makes our political system worthwhile.

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