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The Semi-Sovereign People sample essay

In The Semi-Sovereign People by E. E. Schattschneider, the author makes the argument that non-voting in America is a serious problem. He explains why it is a problem, why it happens, and what can be done to fix it. One of the ways he explains all three of these is by juxtaposing the election of 1896 and the election of 1932. Schattschneider begins by explaining the different between the pressure system and the party system.

The pressure system is made up of public and private interest groups that use information, unity, legitimacy, and information to benefit their members. The majority of Americans are not in interest groups and have no power within the pressure system. Interest groups are largely made up of people of a higher socioeconomic status, and powerful corporations. Interest groups often give large sums of money to the party system, in the form of campaign contributions. Up until 1896, the republican and democratic parties were competitive throughout the country and there was a high voter turnout. Due to this competition, both parties had to try to make the voters happy in order to win elections. They tended to listen to the masses and work to do what the people wanted. This was up until the farmer run populous movement of 1896. Both the democrats and republicans were so afraid of the populous movement that the parties became significantly stronger by banding together.

The democrats were supported by the plantation-owners of the south, and the republicans by the bankers and railroad owners of the north and west. Due to the lack of competition caused by monopolies in both the north and south, the parties were able to stop trying so hard to satisfy the masses. Voters expected the republicans would win in the north and west, and the democrats would win in the south. The lack of conflict and competition caused voter turnout to drop, allowing the power of interest groups to determine the results of the elections. This political situation lasted forty years. In 1936, the great depression had left many people dissatisfied with President Hoover, and in their desperation began looking for anyone to come save them. Democrat, Theodore Roosevelt, had become their only other choice and an option in the north and west. Finally, there was once again competition among parties. Roosevelt, knowing that with this competition he could be thrown out of office in any of the coming elections, worked hard to listen to what the people wanted and did his best to make things better. Due to this, he was reelected twice.

The situation today reflects more largely of 1896 than 1932. Schattschneider asserts that both the voter turnout and the pressure system today are made up of people of a higher socioeconomic status. Those are the people the politicians listen to and attempt to please. Wealthy people and organizations, through the pressure system and voter turnout, are holding increasingly more power over the government. Until people of all backgrounds and status’ start voting, not everyone will be represented and served by our government. When government officials are pulled one way by voters and one way the the financial power of the pressure system, there will be a closer balance between the two. However, if the party’s are to be held accountable to the public, they must overpower the pressure system, by turning out voters.

The author writes that people are naturally attracted to conflict. The more conflict between parties, the more people will pay attention to and get involved in the election process. Non-voting occurs because the masses are not intrigued by or excited about the issues being discussed by the parties. Many people do not feel that the issues pertain to them, or feel as though no matter who gets elected their day to day lives will be affected very little. Also, with many states being traditionally democratic or republican, non-voters feel that they already know who their state is going to elect before polls even open, making their vote irrelevant. This problem could be reversed by expanding the scope of the conflict. This could be done by changing the subjects that the parties are discussing to things that effect the average American, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status.

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