Over a month and counting…. I haven’t written a single ‘political’ post.
It’s not that I didn’t want to write political articles, as there are a ton of topics.
It’s simply that after a long day of work, caring for pets, corresponding with friends and loved ones, I simply don’t have the same energy I did a few years ago to determine a topic, comb through sources and engage in time consuming edits.
It seems as though once again, I am a victim from news/political burnout. As I reported in August 2018, Pew Research found that almost of 2/3 of Americans feel the same. In February 2020, the results were the same.
I imagine the number is higher now after a politicized pandemic, national election and January 6th committee.
Even those who study politics formally and informally, such as myself, can only handle so much. Everyone needs a set of parameters so they can engage intelligently with our politicized age.
Why is following the news important?
Consider the following chart from Pew’s in-depth 2018 study “The Public, the Political System and American Democracy:”
In the past 5 years, 42% of respondents, less than half, expressed support for a campaign on social media. Now in these politicized times one may be less likely to do to avoid ostracization, only confiding in their close groups of family and friends.
40% contacted an elected official. There isn’t elaboration on what the contact entails. For instance, congratulating a campaign on a victory is much different than asking for clarification or challenging an official on their actions, which can involve a lot of back and forth.
29% contributed money to a campaign. You know the saying ‘put your money where your mouth is’? Well, almost 70% of Americans aren’t willing to spend their hard earned dollars on a campaign.
29% attended a local government meeting. As I have preached and will continue to preach, local and state politics are king. In five years, 7/10 Americans couldn’t find the time or desire to go at least once to a city council, school board or similar meeting.
28% attended a political rally or event. These are far more time consuming and involve their own logistical challenges, as well as social consequences, so the lower number is a bit more defensible.
16% of Americans volunteered or worked for a political campaign. Just like Americans are reluctant to spend their money on political aspirants, they’re even less likely to donate their time or talents to them.
In a separate study, Pew uncovered that only 2% of Americans ever run for office.
You can argue each of these engagement methods have significant drawbacks. Either they require copious amounts of time and/or money, have social or professional consequences or aren’t possible for many Americans.
For most of us, following the news we can demonstrate our citizenship. If you find the correct sources, it doesn’t take a lot of time or money. There aren’t social or professional consequences for doing it. Everyone can do it, sometimes while doing other tasks. Finally, in order to vote, you need to be informed, and to be informed, there’s few options. Keeping up with the news is the easiest, most practical and most effective in my life.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Stay away from cable news, internet clickbait and the like. Media Bias Fact Check compiles all sorts of Internet sources based on their political leanings and regularly conducts in-depth factchecks.
2. Make sure to read left, center and right sources, provided they’re reasonable. RearClearPolitics does a nice job of compiling articles and news from a variety of places.
3. Have regular periods of abstention in which you limit or halt news consumption. Perhaps after certain kinds of controversial events as a I suggested in “Social Media Cooling Off Periods.”
4. Make a point to consume positive news consumption. For instance, the publication The Week has a section highlighting feel good news from around the world.
5. As I’ve covered in my getting involved type posts, balance your consumption with doing something, no matter how small. Look at the Pew’s chart above and pick one one thing to do. For instance, attending a city council meeting or voting in a local election are ways to put your knowledge into action. In the end, why follow the news if we don’t use it?
We can’t cure political polarization. Contacting officials can be frustrating. It’s difficult to get to government meetings or political rallies. Most of us can’t or won’t contribute money or time to a campaign, much less run ourselves.
Nevertheless, we all can follow the news and take a little step into active citizenry.
Are you with me?