Aug 31, 2020 in Analysis

Political Competence: Possible Outcomes and Benefits

The twenty-first century brought new perspectives and challenges into all spheres of human life, and political one is not an exception. Globalization and technological development increased the involvement of the masses in integrative socio-economic processes that are supported by the policy of international cooperation. In this context, the world political system is not only a scientific abstraction but a reality that every citizen faces in their daily lives. Such integration raises essential questions related to the political competence of people and its significance for both local and global policies. In his article, Michael Delli Carpini examines the influence of citizen awareness on the political situation and concludes that it plays a crucial role in American democracy. In further consideration, political incompetence can lead to several negative outcomes while the effective solution to this issue not only helps to decrease different kinds of biases but also strengthens the democratic principles of American policy.

The level of political knowledge among citizens is one of the main aspects of the American political system that ensures the effectiveness of legislation, and the stability of the social order with the rule of law. Under political literacy one needs to understand the level of knowledge about the society, principles of political and social activity, and ethical and civic qualities of personality that helps to consciously participate in the public and political life of the state. However, lack of competence results in decreasing of citizenship activity and weakens the principles of democratic society. Finally, a good understanding of political mechanisms is an important factor in the implementation of the public legislation. Effective implementation of public policy requires not only consideration of past mistakes, but also a theoretical understanding of legal systems by the citizens. For example, mass ignorance of the rights of voters and candidates, as well as, of the organization and conduct of elections, is a serious threat to the effectiveness of the elections. Lupia outlines that numerous scientific investigations proved the fact that American citizens demonstrate a high level of ignorance about the current political situation. I think that such state of affairs can lead to two negative outcomes.

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On the one hand, the lack of political knowledge can indicate the low level of political interest among the population. In other words, individuals do not trust the authorities and have no faith in the stability of the political system and effectiveness of changes in the state. Delli Carpini sees the direct correlation between the level of political competence and responsiveness of the democracy. In terms of democratization changes throughout the world, understanding the ideological and other grounds of policy as well as decisions and actions of the political authorities is particularly important to the population. However, the existence of access to necessary data does not increase the level of political knowledge and American citizens still remain poorly informed. The low level of awareness of the people leads to the fact that individuals, especially in the provincial towns, do not have a clear understanding of the mechanisms of translation of their interests in power. I think that such trend is extremely dangerous because the growing level of political ignorance may lead to increasing popularity of absenteeism. This concept means a deliberate evasion of direct political responsibilities by individuals. Needless to say, this form of interaction between citizens and government is the worst, because it determines the delegitimization of power and exclusion of civil society from the state. 

On the other hand, continuous political ignorance among citizens leads to the increase in popularity of heuristic perception and, as the result, populist ideas. Such statement means that voters start to pick candidates more emotionally rather than logically. Thus, systematic biases outlined by Brian Kaplan become even more significant. There are four kinds of prejudices that include antimarket, antiforeign, make-work, and pessimistic biases and suppose a public underestimation of benefits from the market economy, foreign affairs, conserving labor, and economic performance accordingly. This concept is brilliantly exploited in modern political rhetoric, and the best example is a current presidential campaign of Donald Trump. He tells voters that all current problems are the result of enemies’ activity that had corrupted society very quickly. The reasonable appeals to increase the quality and productivity of labor force for the economic recovery look inadequate and not corresponding to the reality. Politically incompetent voter thinks that the ordinary civilian could live happily, but he always becomes a victim of robbers from Wall Street, the immigrant workers or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Currently, American political system has a number of different institutions that either decreases the consequences of such claims or prevents their implementation. 

However, such statement does not mean that the populist dominance poses no danger to the development of society. Public incompetence with a strong emotional aspect of voting inevitably leads to the situation when the authorities and the opposition do not try to solve real problems but focus on passionate rhetoric to receive the public sympathies. In this situation, populist claims prevent any attempt of serious discussion of relevant issues or implementation of realistic solutions. In such conditions, the authorities’ priorities change. They do not want to speak about anything serious trying not to hurt the interests of certain groups of the population and instead of real reforms they perform all sorts of bright, but totally senseless political projects aimed at keeping the rate. 

Moreover, the voting behavior of uninformed citizens provides numerous perspectives for speculation and biases. Lupia insists that uninformed voters tend to emulate the behavior of informed experts and effectively use “their limited resources.” Thus, incompetence promotes the significance of highly informed individuals. I feel that such state of affairs represents a perfect ground for speculations with public opinion. For example, political party or single candidate can give financial support to certain experts in exchange for their positive commentaries and opinions. In addition, focus on informed elites allows all types of media to play an important role in modern political systems. One can see all kinds of experts on TV, radio or Internet resources. In addition, the low political competence of citizens is directly linked to dissatisfaction with life and growth of protest moods. Without sufficient knowledge, individual often becomes a toy in the hands of others and performs actions the meaning and the consequences of which are not entirely clear to him/her. Therefore, Bartels is absolutely right stating that “political ignorance has systematic and significant political consequences.”

However, populist dominance and speculation with public opinion are the most pessimistic scenarios. The real situation with political competence is not hopeless. Investigating that issue, Delli Carpini draws two important conclusions: “the average American is poorly informed, but not uninformed” and “aggregate levels of political knowledge have remained relatively stable over the past 50 years.” Therefore, one can see that there is a certain basis of knowledge that can serve as the starting point for increasing the level of political competence. Establishing such positive trend American political system will become more stable and efficient. As Delli Carpini suggests, “the more citizens are passingly informed about the issues of the day, the behavior of political leaders, and the rules under which they operate, the better off they are - the better off we are.” Firstly, politically literate citizens express lesser dissatisfaction with democracy because of their higher level of education and the standards of living. Secondly, even if politically competent citizens come to opposition, they are more inclined to a peaceful protest. Thus, political education forms the democratic behavior. Moreover, the increase in the level of political competence of the population will inevitably cause an increase in electoral activity of citizens because both conceptions are closely connected to each other. In this context, the most important task is to improve the level of political knowledge of young people because they represent a future electorate that will continue to promote values of a truly democratic state.

The concept of political competence supposes not only understanding political mechanisms but also personal and social features that help every individual to participate in the life of the state. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in every political system and serves as the subject of numerous scientific studies. Currently, scholars outline that average American citizen demonstrates a low level of awareness. Such trend can have two extremely negative outcomes. On the one hand, uninformed citizens tend to make a choice based on emotional appeals; thus, increasing the influence of systematic biases. In addition, the focus on heuristic appeals results in the increase of populist rhetoric that poses a significant threat to the democracy. On the other hand, voting behavior of uninformed citizens supposes the important role of different experts, which, in its turn, leads to speculation with public opinion and biased representation in media. At the same time, the situation with a current level of political competence can be improved because there is already existing basis of political knowledge in American society. Informed citizens will not only make a rational choice and serve as an example for uninformed individuals but also help to establish a civilized society and promote democratic values.

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