Civic engagement is crucial for our democracy to function properly, and one of the ways to engage is to cast a ballot in an election as part of our democratic rights and civic duties.
Here in Kansas, we were just given the opportunity to cast our ballots in the 2022 primary election as part of the promise of self-governance afforded to us by the United States Constitution and our political system.
Without getting into the results of this recent vote, it was an important election. The ballot included positions for governor, state school board, state and congressional representatives, and, perhaps most notably, a state constitutional amendment concerning abortion rights that served as the country’s first vote on women’s reproductive rights since the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 and ended federal protections for abortions.
Regardless of where you land on that issue or if your chosen candidate gets to move on to face the other party’s candidate in the general election, this primary election cycle felt notable in the amount of engagement that appeared to be happening.
That is because yard signs swayed in the Kansas breeze nearly everywhere.
The most recognizable ones were purple and urging folks to vote “Vote Yes!” Of course, Kris Kobach’s signage for his Kansas Attorney General run was prevalent too.
The other side of the political debate had its fair share of displays as well. “Vote No” signs and placards supporting incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly proclaimed counterarguments.
Often those signs were staked into neighboring yards, clearly identifying how political leanings differed even among neighbors.
That’s the beauty of our political system, though. Everyone can believe what they like, and then they can make their voices heard by casting their ballot or prominently displaying political signage.
In the run-up to the election, though, I hope people actually used their voices to discuss the topics on the ballot.
Social media can help connect people, and it can help increase political engagement. Though it is easy to craft a filter bubble or echo chamber on social media where individuals are only being exposed to ideas and opinions they likely already agree with, some research shows this doesn’t impact political polarization to the extent one might think. Instead, people can be exposed to new perspectives, leading to greater understanding and awareness of gaps within their knowledge about a politically charged issue.
Of course, other research suggests social media users can be pushed further into their beliefs by being exposed to information and arguments from the other side of the political aisle.
The problem is that computer-mediated communication — email, Internet-based chats, and social media platforms — eliminates the human contextual elements of tone, body language, and the like. It can feel as though the person on the other side of the screen is nothing more than a keyboard. That damages the discourse or discussion that can take place.
That’s why I hope people engaged with their actual voices. I hope people interacted with each other by having conversations.
Considering the abortion issue specifically, I had several conversations with individuals in which we calmly and coolly discussed our views on the topic. I don’t know that any hearts or minds were changed, but I am confident that we left those exchanges with a better understanding of the other person’s perspective.
For democracy to work, we need to be able to talk to each other and have a dialogue about matters of public importance. Through dialogue, knowledge can be constructed. That will only work if we truly listen to each other in a thoughtful and careful manner. It’s not about waiting until it is your turn to speak next. It is about hearing and processing what the other person is articulating.
Thanks to this exchange of ideas, empathy can be built. This allows individuals participating in a deliberative process, such as democratic governance, to gain an understanding of the perspectives of others.
This means democracy requires dialogue and interaction with people who have differing political viewpoints. Failure to do so imperils democracy as a whole because this system of government cannot function well or for the long term if it is one-sided.
So even though the primary election is over, I wish to continue having productive political conversations with people of all beliefs. There’s no doubt emotions will continue to run high on topics such as abortion, but I hope dialogue can continue, working to eliminate the political polarization that engulfs our society.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.