Module 3 Essay: The United States vs. Australia:
Citizen Participation in Political Processes
Political Science 105
Professor Chad Smith
Political participation can be defined as the various activities used by citizens to aid in determining new political leaders, policies, and laws. It varies greatly from country to country based on the essential categories of who participates, why they participate, and how they participate. Throughout the recent years, Americans have been deemed as notably less involved, and this is proven by numbers showing that “since the beginning of the 20th century, American voter turnout has been on the decline.” (Participating in Government). This steady decrease in involvement deviates from Australia’s numbers, where citizens make a beeline for the polls on the election day. Although they carry many similarities, a simple law discrepancy creates a large gap between citizen participation in the United States verses Australia.
Australia and the United States are very analogous when it comes down to analyzing common stereotypes of politically concerned citizens, targeting the answer to who is politically active. According to statistics, “voters in most democracies tend to be middle aged and better educated with white-collar jobs, more urban and suburban than rural.” (Roskin et all, 2014, pg. 189). This can be further broken down by race and gender. Age also plays a huge role, breaking the rules of socioeconomic status, as older people are more likely to participate politically. Education is one of the strongest factors showing greater involvement across the board. All these elements ring true for both Australia and the United States, showing great deal of similarities in citizens that participate in politics.
Taking analysis a step further to uncover why citizens are involved is where Australia and the United States begin to vary. United States voting rates average around 67%, while Australia averages closer to 95%. (Pintor et al., pg. 78). The radical voting statistics in Australia are not necessarily related to interest. Participation through voting is mandatory in Australia upon reaching the age of eighteen, and failure to do so can result in a fine and potentially a day in court. (Beck, 2013). Although this keeps voting turn out on the high end, many feel that it does not adequately represent a true interest in politics because citizens are pressured to vote in order to avoid punishments. The United States on the other hand, has an open and non-enforced voting system. Many American citizens that vote do so out of a sense of efficacy, which translates to feeling like they contribute something to the electoral and political processes. (Roskin et all, 2014, pg. 189). Hence, those who refuse to vote in the United States feel the opposite. Many also complain about the difficulty of voting, ranging from the complications of the registration process to the massive amount of offices to elect. Many Australians feel lack of efficacy as well, but are still forced to vote due to the compulsory laws enacted. (Beck, 2013).
How various citizens participate in their government’s decisions is arguably one of the most important components of politics. Voting, as discussed prior, is the most commonly acknowledged form of participation, though there are many other venues. For example, in Australia there is a group called “The Young Liberal Movement of Australia” that provides opportunities for young people to gain a greater understanding on the political stance of various national parties. They also increase participation by giving a sound understanding of the role their parties play in the Australian democratic process. The United States operates similarly, by forming interest groups that “organize people with common interests and attitudes to influence government to support their points of view.” (Participating in Government). Both countries encourage party identification, which allows citizens to develop an attachment to a specific political party through views and parental influence. (Roskin et all, 2014, pg. 192). Australia and the United States are also both democratic governments, and citizens often utilize the right to peacefully protest an issue through marches, picket lines, rallies and petitions.
In conclusion, the democratic structures both Australia and the United States cause them to have similarities in what type of voters they attract and why, as well as types of political participation. The great gap between voting statistics would appear to lies solely in the fact that the United States does not enforce compulsory voting laws. If Australia operated in this fashion, it’s probable that their numbers would be more in range of the United States and other democracies. Without enforcement or a huge controversy, political participation is highly common only when people feel like they truly make a difference in their nation’s decision making.
Beck, K. (2013, August 26). Australia election: Why is voting compulsory? Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23810381
Participating in Government. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2015, from http://www.ushistory.org/gov/4d.asp
Pintor, R., Gratschew, M., & Sullivan, K. (n.d.). Voter Turnout Rates from a Comparative Perspective. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.idea.int/publications/vt/upload/Voter turnout.pdf
Roskin, M., Cord, R., Medeiros, J., & Jones, W. (2014). Political science: An Introduction (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Young Liberal Movement of Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from https://www.youngliberal.org.au/