It’s the spring before an election year, and radio, television and social media are warming up for the inevitable message: “My opponent is the worst thing to happen to America,” the candidate will say. “I am the best thing to happen to America, and I approve this message.” There’s a sense of foreshadowing as we enter this introductory period, where politicians from the left and right humbly declare their intentions to run for the highest office in the land. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and perhaps legions more Republican candidates are lacing up, and Elizabeth Warren and Martin O’Malley may just dip their toes in the water to challenge the venerable Hillary Clinton.
On April 20, however, another name entered the race: Juaquin James Malphurs, slightly better known by his rap persona Waka Flocka Flame.
In the mood for a laugh, I watched his campaign video on Rolling Stone’s website, but I was deeply troubled. I am not worried that he will win. He is only 28 years old and has no political experience. However, I was disturbed that Waka Flocka Flame’s political awareness was similar to that of the American voting public, which is to say almost non-existent. As we prepare to vote in what for many of us will be our first presidential election, we must commit to be informed and responsible voters. Political awareness must go beyond simply knowing what the issues are and making quick judgments. On minimum wage, for example, Flame provides a perfect example of what not to do, as he vocalizes, “Fifteen dollars an hour, ‘cuz that’s what In-N-Out Burger does. Way to go In-N-Out Burger.” There are more complex arguments on both sides of this issue. Sources such as the Department of Labor, The Law Dictionary, Forbes and others are merely a Google search away and have released studies outlining the issue.
However, this is not where we gather our news. Our opinions are formed based on Buzzfeed’s pictures of people protesting or memes demonizing everyone on minimum wage as lazy.
The American Press Institute estimates that only 20 percent of early voters (ranging from 18-29 years old) search beyond headlines to go in depth into events, and a majority of us garner our news from mobile device applications, which provide us with quick stats and short headlines. It is likely our opinions will be founded on cursory glances and surface details. This breeds a form of ignorance that justifies arguments based on little more than fragments of ideas or hastily read headlines. Looking forward to the upcoming election, voters, and especially college students, need to commit to higher levels of awareness to propagate opinions we can feel comfortable voting upon. Fortunately, the tools to maintain and support opinions exist. Arguments of varying stances and actual credibility exist for all issues. What’s more, they are available digitally. Online sources, such as Politico, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Drudge Report and many others provide in-depth investigation from both the left and right. Furthermore, they present viewpoints that challenge and broaden political perspectives.
Though reliable sources may not be as flashy or entertaining as Buzzfeed, they have depth and are valuable for those wishing to become informed voters. As we prepare for the upcoming election, we need to accept the fact that surface knowledge is not political knowledge. Our right to vote is only as valuable as our passion to be informed.
Luke Farquhar is a freshman with an undeclared major.