Pennsylvanians Reflect On Deep-Rooted Issues Facing Democracy

Nov 1, 2016

With the election just a week away, WPSU asked voters to take a moment to ponder what could be done to improve the democratic system.

Ron Derstine is from Schwenksville. He said, “I would hope that whoever becomes president would somehow work in a bipartisan way that things could actually get done. I think we have been standing still for the last eight years.”

Drew Myers, a student at Penn State, said the sense of division exists not only between parties, but also between people and the government.

“If I could say anything would threaten the democracy, that would be the fact that we don’t trust our democratic leaders,” Myers said. “Part of the reason a lot of people say that Donald Trump is doing so well is because he is not traditionally a politician. I think that’s a good example of how people are sort of fed up with the politicians that we are having in this country, and are trying to get representation in other ways.”

Trump’s campaign has made extensive efforts to discredit the mainstream media as biased and corrupt. Michael Regan, a Penn State student, said the media should do a better job on balanced reporting.

“I think the media is really strangely fragmented and kind of polarized right now," Regan said. "People get more time if they have stronger opinions in one way or the other. I think it’s difficult now for people who have moderate opinions to be appreciated.”

He also said some candidates have deep pockets and are able to afford air time for political advertising, an advantage over the others.

Anthony Zarzycki was registering people to vote in the HUB Robeson Center this summer. He said money has a big effect on campaigns.

“I think money impacts politics the way money influences everything – it’s a driving force – and that can be a good thing," Zarzycki said. "The problem is, however, when big money is influencing what you are literally seeing of your country, what you’re actually believing about the people around you, and what the system actually is. That money, while it could be a driving force, it can also tip the scale disproportionately.”

Sara Ostergren, a political science major, said she’s most concerned about the low voter turnout rate among younger people.  

“I think that we have lower voting turnout at this age because we might believe that our single vote will not have enough of an effect to make a greater impact on our whole country," Ostergren said. "It's like, ‘Oh, other people vote but I don’t have to, because one vote won’t make a difference.’”

Jeff Mathison, from Boalsburg, said he believes the logistics of voting should be improved as well.

“We could do a lot to make that easier: it could be online, more places to vote. I think registration should be available on the same day," Mathison said. "I would not be against making it compulsory. I hear it works well in Australia. I think it would be really important for more people to get out and vote."

Jenni Evans is a meteorology professor at Penn State, who happens to be from Australia. Evans said the U.S. is unlikely to adopt it, but compulsory voting creates a culture where people are more eager to engage in democracy.

“If people in the school system had that as a goal, and we’re growing up thinking that I am going to have to vote, then they are more engaged from the start," Evans said. "Whatever happens now effects them for the longest time in the future. You guys should be voting! I hope you are.”

In recent years, about 60 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in presidential elections. Meanwhile, Donald Trump says that he may not accept the result if he loses. Accepting the outcome of the presidential vote is a democratic tenet unchallenged in U.S. history. 

WPSU summer interns Talia Cowen and Becca DeGregorio contributed to this report.