The United States is in a period of political turmoil and polarization. New technologies have matured over the last ten years, which have transformed an individual’s relationship with society and government. The emergence of these technologies has revolutionized access to both information and misinformation. Skills such as bias recognition and critical thinking are more imperative than in any other time to separate truth from false or misleading information. Meanwhile, education has not evolved with these changes. The average individual is more likely to come to uninformed conclusions and less likely to listen to differing perspectives. Moreover, technology is further complicating and compounding other issues in the political process. All of this is manifesting in division among the American people who elect more polarized politicians who increasingly fail to find avenues for compromise.
In an effort to address these trends, we founded a student organization, The Political Literates, to fight political apathy by delivering political news in an easy to understand and unbiased manner. Inspired by our experience with this organization, we combine our insights with research to paint a new perspective on the state of the American political system.
This thesis analyzes various issues identified through our observations and research, with a heavy emphasis on using examples from the 2016 election. Our focus is how new technologies like data analytics, the Internet, smartphones, and social media are changing politics by driving political and social transformation. We identify and analyze five core issues that have been amplified by new technology, hindering the effectiveness of elections and further increasing political polarization:
● Gerrymandering which skews partisan debate by forcing politicians to pander to ideologically skewed districts.
● Consolidation of media companies which affects the diversity of how news is shared.
● Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed media to become more partisan.
● The Citizens United Ruling which skews power away from average voters in elections.
● A Failing Education System which does not prepare Americans to be civically engaged and to avoid being swayed by biased or untrue media.
Based on our experiment with the Political Literates and our research, we call for improving how critical thinking and civics is taught in the American education system. Critical thought and civics must be developed pervasively. With this, more people would be able to form more sophisticated views by listening to others to learn rather than win, listening less to irrelevant information, and forming a culture with more engagement in politics. Through this re-enlightenment, many of America’s other problems may evaporate or become more actionable.