Why are so many Americans interested in politics?

A quick perusal of GD and The Pit on any given day shows a huge number of posts related to American politics or scandals, many of which no-one outside the US (or even the state concerned) has ever heard of.

Why are so many people from the US so interested in politics? Beyond agreeing John Howard is a wanker, you don’t typically hear Australians getting involved in political discussions on the internet, for example.

Anyone like to shed any light on it?

Why is anyone not interested in politics? From national defense to taxes to roads to zoning to libraries - all controlled by politicians.

Well, this board is dominated by a) intelligent people and b) Americans, so it’s only natural that there’d be discussions about American politics here. I am unfamiliar with Australian-dominated message boards, so I don’t know if they are less political than the SDMB.

That factor aside, I have wondered about this myself. I doubt one living Swede in a thousand could name our first prime minister. I only know the name (Louis De Geer the older, if you’re interested) because I was perusing Wikipedia one day and realized I could name a big majority of American presidents, but very few Swedish prime ministers, so I looked it up. In the US, everyone who hasn’t been featured on “Jaywalking” knows the name of the first president.

Priceguy Who was the first King of Sweden?

Not known with certainty and the answer depends on how you define “king” and “Sweden”, but Erik Segersäll is usually the man mentioned.


The reason I ask the question is simply because I should think that the King of Sweden is a more relevant comparison to George Washington than the first Prime Minister, as Sweden still has a Monarchy. It seems like the sort of thing that Swedes might be more inclined to know. In the terms I was looking for, I was looking for someone who was defined as King when the country was defined as ‘Sweden’. Not necessarily some previous Norse Monarch, but something that plays into the national identity of Swedes as Swedes.

This is a good point. However, while Erik Segersäll is much more well known than Louis De Geer, I’d be surprised if one in ten Swedes can name him. Gustav Vasa might be a better analogue, and his name is known to virtually all Swedes, but I doubt many could tell you why.

I have two further points, though. Firstly, the question regarded politics, and the Swedish monarch is today completely apolitical. He is forbidden from making political statements and from voting. He has no powers whatsoever. This wasn’t always the case, of course (Erik Segersäll was basically the chief of the gang of axe-fetishist thugs that ended up beating the shit out of all the other gangs of axe-fetishist thugs), but the average Swede wouldn’t, I’m betting, think of the monarchy as something political.

Secondly, Americans seem to have a sense of history, and therefore of politics, that most nations I’m familiar with lack. To continue the comparison with Sweden, I believe it is because while you broke free from the British and formed a nation right there, on the spot, with a written Constitution and Founding Fathers and the whole shebang, we went from dictatorship to democracy through a slow, agonizing process. You built your nation in one stroke, and you still live in that nation, and you’re fed the story from childhood. No equivalent of that exists here.

I think that’s pretty close to the answer. You have a sense of continuity, of handling an important legacy.

I read some stuff about Gustav Vasa in ‘Rise and Decline of the State’ by Martin van Creveld. Though I couldn’t tell you what. :wink:

Is a King truly apolitical though? Does he hang out with politicos, talk to politicos? I have become curious about the Swedish Monarchy as of late, but I am really in no position to know where to start with my interest, because it’s for some peculiar esoteric reasons, regarding the nature of ‘the state’ and the relationship between one of the Kings and a favorite author of mine. I read a fascinating article about the Queen of England and the soft power that she wields, which is quite substantial. I am quite interested to see what will happen when Prince William becomes King William.

That’s an interesting take. I was always under the impression that Americans had a comparatively lacking sense of history compared to the old world. Perhaps it’s in relation to the larger sense of history. We know quite a bit about our own domestic history, but very little about the history of the world at large. I look at how often I get schooled in history on internet message boards and contrast that with how much better my knowledge of history is than the average person I meet outside of such circles.

Hmm, it’s interesting to hear your perspective. Sort of tweaks my bias a bit. I have given some thought to this sense of continuity, in relation to European countries.

So much history to learn, it is quite daunting.

His social circles consist of mainly old nobility and new money, so I’m sure he participates in political discussions, but he is strictly forbidden from making political statements in public, he cannot vote, and he has no powers. He does not compare to the Queen of England, who has formal powers as well as the “soft” powers you mention, powers of influence. Of course, no-one outside the inner circle knows for sure, but I highly doubt that the king holds any politician’s ear.

Feel free to ask anything you like (but probably not here, we’re getting close to a hijack as it is). If I don’t know, I’m sure I can point you in the right direction.

That’s my understanding too.

To bring us back on course. Do you think that Americans because of the War on Terror have become more aware of the outside world history than they were before? Perhaps this isn’t so much because of current events as it is due to access to information.

I think we are more aware, but then again, I could be viewing a skewed demographic, and it could just be that I am more aware.

The Dope, wondrous thing that it is, is not representative of America - or else we would now be debating the legacy of President Gore. A fair proportion of what sparks heated discussion on this board is not of vital concern to many Americans (the phrase “inside the Beltway” has been used to describe scandals that get huge play among the Washington D.C. crowd and those who follow their antics avidly, but which make much less of an impression on a national scale). The Scooter Libby affair comes to mind.

You could indeed.

Define “aware”. Are they more interested in foreign policy ( which to most Americans means "Kill brown people and heathens ) ? Yes. Are they paying attention to reality, instead of their own fantasies and propaganda ? Nope.

Because we’re allowed to be?

This is an interesting point. I think many Americans still think of the US as a brave experiment in democracy, something that requires them to pay attention to what’s going on. They might not necessarily put it in the larger context of world and European history, but there is the feeling that we need to live up to the expectations of the ‘Founding Fathers’.

This attitude is crystallized in a speech that almost any American will recognize, and most will consider it the best ever political speech - The Gettysburg Address. It was delivered not quite a century after the establishment of the country, but what was said is still held dear today. If you can understand the amount of respect Americans have for these words, it explains a lot about why we’re so political.

I’ve never really thought about how people from other countries would react to it, or if they’ve even heard of it. Here’s some of it :

Full text (it’s less than 250 words).

(While locating the text, I came across this survey result on the most important historical documents. The Gettysburg Address came in at #8, despite the fact that it established no law or official policy.)

None of whom care what the voters think, by and large.

Roads, Zoning, and Libraries are Local Council issues, and if the Jumbuckshire Council decides they’re going to build a road through the forest next to your house, there’s bugger all you can do about it unless most of the rest of the people in town also think it’s a bad idea. If they don’t care, then it’s time for you to take a photo of the view before its gone.

As for National Defence- the ADF don’t make decisions on where to deploy or not deploy based on popular opinion (see: the current situation in Iraq).

And Taxes? GST was hugely unpopular at the time, but the Government went ahead and implemented it anyway- the sky didn’t fall, the economy didn’t collapse, and John Howard got voted in again at the next election. Even if he’d been voted out, the GST system wouldn’t have been repealed because of all the work put into introducing it in the first place.

I think most people here accept that they get 1 chance every 4 years to tell the Politicians what they think, and that getting worked up over things they can’t (generally) control isn’t going to achieve much except create even more stress on their part, hence the political apathy- YRMV, of course.

This is probably going to sound insulting but part of it may be that we Americans feel our politics matter more. For good or bad, we’re the 800 lb gorilla of world affairs. Who gets chosen as the next Prime Minister of Australia or Sweden will be an important issue in those countries - but the Australian election will have virtually no effect on Sweden and the Swedish election will have virtually no effect on Australia (and yes, I realize you don’t actually elect a Prime Minister). But the American election will have a major effect not only on the United States but the entire world.

Martini Enfield It’s not true that you cannot be involved in politics. I doubt it’s even true in Australia. You can lobby your city council directly far more effectively than you can the federal government. It just matters how committed you are to participating. Heck, you could run for City Council if so inclined.

Clearly Australians don’t all agree with that, otherwise the Liberal party wouldn’t have won the last four federal elections.

Perhaps not on the internet. But certainly elsewhere in daily life. Have a look at the letters to the editor in any of the papers. The major ones are dominated by readers’ political contributions. Local papers carry voluminous screeds from people discussing the rights and wrongs of the latest local council decision. And what about the workplace? Political discussions have always been common in any place that I’ve worked.

Respectfully, I don’t agree with the OP. Americans are just as engaged, or disengaged as people from any other nation. This is predominantly a US message board with people who give a shit about the world in which they live.

Other nations are equally engaged; they’re just not equally represented here.

The myth of American involvement in politics is omnipresent. For the next eighteen months, anyway.

Of the citizens of the United States, fewer than 60 percent are actually registered to vote. Of the ones who are registered, about the same percentage vote in presidential election years, and usually only in the final election, the one in November. So, thirty six percent are “interested in politics” if you define that to mean vote for president.

During the rest of the four year cycle, the percentage drops to 25 even here “inside the beltway” where I live. So, if you have the support of three and a half percent of the local population, you can get a nomination from one or the other party to pretty much any office you want. Seven percent will get you elected. The hard facts of life are that the margins between parties are such that either one party always wins, or the process so closely resembles random that any real conscious effort to mobilize a vote can get your candidate into a position of actual power.

But, it doesn’t happen. Why? Because Americans actually don’t give a rats ass for politics.


"A nihilist? That must be exhausting! " ~ Lebowski ~