What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
- join a political party
- help with a campaign
- join a civic group
- join a community group
- give an elected official your opinion on an issue
- call Senators and Representatives
- publicly support or oppose an issue or policy
- run for office
- write to a newspaper
There are Many Ways to Participate in American Politics
Ordinary people can play a small or even a large part in changing political outcomes in the United States. While a solitary vote isn’t likely to change an election, voting still matters. A single letter to a member of Congress might be enough to initiate a change in the law.
|Method of Participation||Description|
|Voting||Participating in local, state, and national elections|
|Contacting Elected Officials||Writing, emailing or calling elected officials to express opinions or concerns|
|Volunteering on a Political Campaign||Assisting a candidate’s campaign by canvassing, phone banking, or other volunteer work|
|Attending Public Meetings||Participating in public meetings, such as town halls or city council meetings|
|Joining a Political Organization||Joining a political party or advocacy group to work toward a common cause|
|Running for Office||Running for political office at the local, state, or national level|
|Writing Op-Eds or Letters to the Editor||Writing letters or opinion pieces for newspapers or other publications on political issues|
|Engaging on Social Media||Using social media platforms to engage with elected officials, share political opinions, and discuss current events|
Vote in an Election
Many people don’t bother to vote because “one vote doesn’t matter.” However, if most people who vote for one party decided to stop voting, their party would collapse and cease to be relevant. What’s more, a small number of votes can swing an election.
The George W Bush vs. Al Gore vote was extremely close. In Florida, George Bush won by just 600 ballots – and if he had lost that state, Al Gore would have been elected president.
Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was possible because fewer Democrats voted in the 2016 election than expected.
You can also vote in local elections. Your vote has more of an impact in a local election because of lower voter turnout for mayoral or other local official elections.
Why voting matters
In the United States, the Voting Rights Act (Originally 1965), ensures that almost everyone has Voting Rights. People can engage in important political action simply by voting in elections, unlike earlier in American history when voting rights were limited.
Voter turnout is not very high as many eligible voters don’t participate in the political process. The Republican Party often wins elections because fewer of the Democratic Party’s supporters vote. Regardless of which party you vote for, your vote matters.
Join a Political Party
Instead of merely voting, some people become party members and take a more active role. If you want to participate more actively in American Democracy, consider joining one of the parties.
While there is a small fee to join a political party in some countries, this is not true in the United States. All you have to do is check a box when you vote, saying that you want to become a member of that party. There may be local meetings for party members in your area.
Help With a Campaign
Running a campaign is an arduous task, so there are always lots of ways to help your party succeed if you want to contribute any of your time.
Some ideas are:
- Volunteering – Go to your campaign’s local office and ask if they need anyone to volunteer. They could easily need you – there is a lot of work to be done.
- Register for the campaign’s email list, and they will email you if they need your help. For example, you might distribute yard signs to voters.
- Put up a sign for your candidate, or wear a shirt for your political party.
- Make a donation, even if small, and suggest that like-minded friends make small donations.
Join a Civic Group
A civic group is an organization that learns about and solves issues that affect their communities. Civic groups often do volunteer work to help their neighborhoods. Many civic groups side with a political party or participate in political activism in some other way.
Join a Community Group
Sometimes, people who consider an issue very important create a community group to raise awareness about the issue. This is a great way of getting people to care about an important political issue on a local level.
Give an Elected Official Your Opinion on an Issue
You may be able to affect an elected official’s opinion on pollution, taxes, a new law, a civil rights issue, or something relevant to your local area. Instead of merely voting on election day, you could write a letter to an elected official.
They might already have received many letters about the same issue, and one more letter might make them change their position.
Call Senators and Representatives
You may also be able to call representatives and senators directly and ask them about their opinion on an issue or tell them what you think about one of their decisions.
Calling a representative is sometimes more effective than writing them a letter.
Publicly Support or Oppose an Issue or Policy
Public protest is an effective form of political participation and can start movements and amend laws. Sometimes, a protest that starts with only a few public demonstrations can become a movement that changes the country forever.
Run for Office
The ultimate way to participate in American Democracy is to run for political office yourself. This is a lot of work, and to win, you will have to have a lot of skill, discipline, and perhaps luck on your side. You will need a large team and plenty of resources.
Write to a Newspaper
Newspapers, especially smaller papers, may publish a letter you send them about a political issue. You may convince many people to vote differently if you get an opinion published in a newspaper.