American Political System
Participation in a political system entails numerous activities employed by the citizens of a country to influence the election of political leaders or public policies. Political participation is anchored in the constitutions of many democratic countries, whereby people have the freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly, the ability to participate in public affairs, right to register as a voter, and the opportunity to vie for electoral position, to campaign, and to hold political and government offices at all levels. At the individual level, one can get involved in the political process through independent actions such as mobilising people to pursue a certain political goal or joining a civil society organisation. This paper will discuss various methods of participating in the political system in the United States of America and their impact on public policy.
Methods of Participation in the Political System in America
Voting is the main method of participation in the political system for all democratic countries all over the world. The United States of America is a democratic country; thus, millions of its registered voters throng to polling stations to elect their leaders after every four years. Voting gives the citizens of the United States of America the opportunity to elect political leaders of their choice who can represent their interest in various legislative houses of the country.
Joining Civil Society
Civil societies are all institutions, corporate bodies, or voluntary organisations that are greater than the family but less than the state. Studies indicate that more than 50% of Americans participates in the community and national political processes by joining civil organisations, interest groups, political parties, or issue-based organisations. These civil society groups are diverse in nature, ranging from those that advocate the protection of social security benefits to those that fight for animal rights.
Participation in Protest
Many Americans take part in political protests as a way of expressing their objection to a particular political event, situation, or policy. Moreover, Americans are fond of organising protests as a way of publicly expressing their opinion with the view of influencing government policy or public opinion. For instance, citizens can engage in nonviolent actions such as deliberate civil disobedience to the laws that they consider unjust. In the USA, this tactic was effectively used in the 1960s to advocate the just treatment of African Americans.
Running for a Political Office
Another method of participation in the political process is through running for a political office. To run for a political office successfully, one must have great deal of time, money, energy, and dedication. According to Springman, “3% of the United States of American citizens participate in the political system by running for political offices” (12). These people participate in the political system by seeking to be elected to Congress, Senate, or as the President of the United States of America.
Contacting Political Official
Expressing an opinion to an elected political leader is one of the methods of participation in the political system. Thus, according to Lim, “In 2015, more than 54% of Americans citizens contacted their member of Congress on political issue of their concern” (148). With the advent of social media platforms, such as Tweeter, Snapchat, Facebook, and other electronic forms of communication, such as email, more and more Americans are able to contact their political officials and make their concerns and opinions heard.
By Donating Resources to a Political Cause
The number of American citizens, who donate their resources to political process, has grown remarkably since the 1960s when the agitation for the expansion of the political space in the United States of America started. Over 25% of Americans donate funds to a political cause, and 20% of Americans donated money to the 2012 U.S Presidential election. Email solicitation and direct mail have made fundraising easier as a donor can make their contribution through a political party and candidate websites.
Opportunities and Challenges for Ordinary Citizens Who Participate in Political System
The opportunities and challenges associated with the participation in a political system can be conceptualised in the context of democratic politics. Democratic politics is characterised by competition, a power struggle for elective position, and conflict. Therefore, in democratic political systems, a win in a particular political course of action an individual supports represents an opportunity to that individual, while a loss in a particular political activity one supports poses potential challenges to that individual.
Participation in the political system through the voting method gives the citizens of the United States of America the ability to vote for the leaders of their choice and vote out those who they perceive to do not represent their interests. However, in a representative democracy, the election of a political leader can be a decision of many citizens made by a few people. This will definitely work to the detriment of individual citizens who will not have their interest represented by elected leaders.
According to Lim, “participation in civil society activities” (150) gives a person an opportunity to voice individual concerns that can be easily ignored by a person at the individual capacity. On the contrary, being a member of civil society can sometimes work to the detriment of an individual, for example one can lose a job due to the victimization resulting from belonging to civil society.
Taking part in protests as a method of participation in the political system of the country can be an effective way of addressing individual Americans, especially with the wave of globalisation. When individuals participate in protest, mainstream media is likely to cover them, which can prompt the concerned party to take immediate action to avoid negative local or international publicity. Protesting can be challenging to an individual, especially when a person engages in violent protest that can lead to injuries.
Running for a political office presents an individual with a great opportunity to participate in the formulation of public policies aimed at solving social problems or improving the welfare of the electorate. Furthermore, this type of political participation gives an individual a platform to get to understand the challenges of the electorate. At the same time, running for a political office is an expense endeavour that requires dedication, energy, time to campaign and financial resources, which can be a great hindrance to some people who seek political offices in the United States of America.
Contacting political officials as a method of participation in a political system gives Americans the opportunity to express their personal concerns to the political leaders regarding their policies. However, a person can be easily be victimised simply because of associating with a particular political official due to the nature of democratic politics that is characterised by conflict and competition.
The donation of funds to a political cause allows people to get to know more about a candidate seeking a political office and other issues pertaining money. Furthermore, during the campaign period, many Americans work for political parties in an effort to solicit funds, which gives them a platform to discuss the issues affecting their country with family members, friends, and people from diverse background.
The Impact of Various Methods of Participation in Political System on Public Policy When Participating at Individual and Collective Level
The likelihood of individual donation to a political cause to influence some public policy is minimal unless the contribution of an individual is significantly high. However, when many people donate much to a particular political cause, the likelihood of them succeeding in affecting public a policy is high. For instance, the contribution of ordinary Americans to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and 2012 ensured that he won the presidential election and influenced the enactment of various legislations, with most important of them being the Affordable Care Act that enabled many people to have access to affordable healthcare. Participation in the political process through the use of civil society enables people to influence public policy. For instance, African American used civil society to demand voting rights in the 1960s.At the individual level, when a personal successfully runs for a political office and wins the election, he or she can influence public policy through participation in the formulation and adoption of various public policies. A good example of individual influence on public policy is the role that President Obama has played in the enactment of the Affordable Car Act. In terms of voting, an individual vote is hardly enough to influence public policy. However, votes of many people can influence the direction of public policy greatly.
Methods of Participation in the American Political system Available for Wealthy Individuals
Apart from donations to a political cause, wealthy Americans employ other methods like the use of interest groups, lobbying, and revolving doors to influence public policy. For instance interest group can fund the campaign of a certain individual running for a political office on condition that if that person wins, he or she will do something in return to the interest group, for example, cut taxes for the activities they are engaged in. Secondly, wealthy individuals can use lobbying to influence public policy. In the United States of America, wealthy professionals can lobby government officials and members of Congress on certain issues of concern to their clients. Thirdly, revolving door as a method of influencing public policy by wealthy individuals entails knowing people either in government offices or in the legislative house who hold the positions of influence. According to the studies conducted by Eggers and Spirling in 2014 “thousands of wealthy Americans have spun through the `revolving doors’ of Washington by using their know-how gathered through public service and professional relationship to advance their personal interests” (889).
Impact of Wealthy Americans Acting Alone and Collectively on Public Policy
The impact of wealthy Americans working alone through the various method of influencing public policy, such as lobbying, use of revolving doors, and use of interest groups, has minimal success when employed at a personal level as compared to the cases when it is employed at group level. According the studies conducted by Han, “Affluent Americans in the state of Florida funded the campaign of Governor Rock Scott in 2010” (7). Upon his election, Governor Scott has been on the forefront of cutting taxes for companies of wealthy individuals who financed his campaign. Lobbying by doctors in the United States of America has enabled them to influence public policy. According to Han, in 1997, the American Medical Association argued, “the American government to restrict foreign doctors from practising in America through licensing” (19).
The Extent, to Which American Political system is Disproportionate to Wealthy Americans’ Interest
To some extent, the political system in the United States of America is a playground for the wealthy individuals. For instance, wealthy Americans control the stock market. Thus, Han further indicates that 83% of the stock market in the United States of America is owned by 1% of the American population. Unfortunately, sales taxes that disproportionately affect low-income Americans are in force while transaction taxes, which have the potential of affecting wealthy Americans, barely exist. The only influence the low-income people are proud of is the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress under President Obama since it protects the interest of the poor and low-income Americans. According to McWilliams, the political system in the United States of America has a tendency of putting in place protectionism for highly paid professional such as doctors while advocating free trade for low-paying professionals (139).
Apart of voting, there many methods that citizens of a country can use to participate in the political life of their count. These other methods include the activities of civil society, joining social media and contributing to political discussions, protesting to agitate a certain political course, and participating in election campaigns. By using various methods of participation in the political system, American citizens are in a position to influence various public policies or express their opinion on various issues of local and national importance. However, the political system in the United States of America is mostly a playground for the wealthy individuals at the expense of low-income citizens.