The United States of America is the oldest democracy in existence, having lasted for well over two centuries, an accomplishment many did not think to be possible during the birth of the nation. What made America unique was the privilege, the right, and the responsibility of its citizens to vote. The basis of our republic is the idea that each and every person can be heard with a voice just as loud and just as influential as the one that came before them. Both democracy and the United States were founded on exercising political voice through political participation. In doing so, Americans are able to, directly and indirectly, influence public office and government policies. Through political activity, citizens are able to convey their political wants, needs, and desires to government officials, and with this, they are able to engender those officials to acknowledge and react accordingly to the citizen’s preferences. Political voice and participation are not only instruments for change but are values “in and of itself: conferring upon the individual the dignity that comes with being a full member of the political community” (Scholzman et al. 2). Since 1970, economic inequality has disproportionately accumulated within the top 1 percent of society. The extensive amount of economic inequality in America has consequently negatively affected the utilization of political voice among citizens and the dispersion and formulation of political voice by social and economic class.
An initial dilemma in the concern with an equal political voice in America is the ambiguous opinions of the public on economic inequality and economic opportunity. While many Americans believe and favor in economic equality and opportunity, many still are biased towards inequality in the outcome and aftermath in regards to economic prosperity. This has been seen in the discrepancy of federal government policies proposed and those enacted. An example is that Americans tend to skepticism any government policies that would command for a large-scale wealth redistribution. In America, there are “very few [that] favor ‘a law limiting the amount of money any individual is allowed to earn in a year,’ and most agree that ‘people should be allowed to accumulate as much wealth as they can, even if some make millions while others live in poverty” (Scholzman et al. 9). There are, however, a majority of citizens that prefer public policies that redistribute wealth among social classes, federal programs that help the lower-income class through education, insurance, and employment. Even though many may prefer egalitarian policies, this is not always shown in public policies due to the inequality of public voice. In 2001 and 2203, there were “large regressive cuts in income and estate taxes” even though “polls showed that substantial majorities of Americans would have preferred to keep the money and bolster the Social Security system or reduce the budget deficit” (Scholzman et al. 9). While the majority preferred for the taxes to stay the same, the minority had the most prominent influence in government and was able to enact their preferred policies. Many Americans prefer policies that tax the wealthy and upper-income citizens and policies that aid middle-class citizens. This shows a direct discrepancy in the amount of public voice actually voiced and exercised in American government.
Americans believe in the fact that all citizens should have equal opportunity and equal right to control and regulate office and public policy, but inequality arises in the influence of private campaign contributions and campaign spending. The government is judged on its ability to carry out the wants, needs, and desires of its citizens, but this can be skewed by the manipulation and exploitation of the wealthy and the elite. This is because “the affluent and well-educated are not only able to afford the financial costs of organizational support but they are in a better position to command the skills, acquire the information, and utilize the connections that are helpful in getting an organization off the ground or keeping it going” (Scholzman et al. 20). The wealthy have tools more readily available to them that aid in campaigning and persuading others to conform to their opinions in politics and public policy, and “if political leaders, organized interest groups, large corporations or others can manipulate the opinions of ordinary citizens, democracy will be compromised even though the government responds perfectly to those opinions” (Scholzman et al. 13). The wealthy elite are able to fund private campaigning for public officials, and public officials are able to influence mass media, thus directly influencing the thoughts and actions of ordinary citizens. The media is a major outlet to influence and inform citizens about political affairs, and with the monopolization of the media by public officials, citizens are more inclined to form and change their opinions based on what officials put out in the media for them to see. While public officials claim they are educating the population about their policies and approaches to government, they are, in fact, manipulating the citizens to suit their own political wants, needs, and desires.
The need for public voice is heightened due to the rising economic and political inequality. Action and participation are needed among all citizens in order to ensure an equal protection of the interests of all citizens, not just a minute few who have controlling power and influence over the majority. There will always be divisions among society and there will always be differing opinions on political affairs. Due to “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties” (Federalist Paper No. 10). Therefore, the role of government is to protect the interests of all divisions and fractions, and the only way for the government to act accordingly is for its citizens to communicate their wants, needs, and desires. In doing so they put pressure on the government to listen to them and enact their wishes in their policies. They are directly influenced by what citizens communicate, and “so long as citizens differ in their opinions and interests, the level playing field of democracy requires that we take seriously the fact that citizens differ in their capacity, and desire, to exercise political voice” (Scholzman et al. 17). Each voice and opinion matters, but more importantly the amount of public activity and participation matters as well. The lack of activity and participation from society from the rising economic inequality is now the driving factor behind political inequality.