The secret ballot allows each citizen to cast their vote as they desire, without outside influences, pressure, repercussions, or censure. Until 1890, US citizens were being told whom to vote for by their superiors or strongmen. Ideally, in American politics, each American citizen would vote for the candidate of their choice, of whichever party suits them best at the time, in each election. As American citizens, we decided to fight not only for the right to our own opinion but for unimpaired democracy in general. We ensured the right to a secret ballot. A hundred years later, that right is being forsaken. Selfies from the polls, yard signs, and social media posts have become the new normal. Now that we freely decide to widely publish our political opinions, oversharing is becoming the new oppressor. It has become an expression of our disunion; it perpetuates the divide.
In 2021, few people in America feel pressured by their employer to vote in a certain way, yet the repercussions of publicly disclaiming one’s voting preference are tangible. We broadcast to our friends, employers, neighbours, and the world for whom we will most likely vote for or who we have voted for through social media and various signs. Our political views have become public information. To address this, states such as California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah have all legalized self-ballot-publication. Other states are taking a stand against it. Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas hope that legally discouraging making one’s ballot public will safeguard voting impartiality.
One in five Americans put out yard signs during an election, the same amount that uses Twitter regularly. Yard signs have quadrupled during the last 30 years. More and more are filling the lawns of American households despite candidates and campaign managers understanding that these signs have very little influence in a campaign. One study found yard signs might influence an election once out of every 50 elections. These banners do not help to promote either candidate in a race. They also do not ensure that all the household members represent the candidate on the sign, so they cannot necessarily help pollsters predict votes. Your Biden bumper sticker may seem patriotic, but it won’t change the mind of any Trump supporters you drive by. It will only make them feel alienated from you. Bumper stickers neither substitute for an effective form of political debate nor do they help cultivate it.
Political signs tend to be put out by men, high-income white voters, and church-goers. The majority claim they use political symbols not to fight against another party/candidate but rather to support their community of like-minded thinkers. We don’t realize that in our search for identity with those who support our politics, we are highlighting our disunity with all those who disagree with us.
In 2018, The Atlantic noted how the 2016 presidential election signs never seemed to go away. In Eastern Pennsylvania, two months past the 2020 Presidential Election, yard signs, flags, bumper stickers, and billboards still adorn many properties. A yard sign outside of a house is an issue. Even if that person did not post his/her ballot on Instagram, everyone in the area can assume which box they checked. Signs for candidates are becoming symbols of a party with a certain set of ideals, and therefore never need to be taken down.
Flying a flag of one political party alerts everyone to your side of the debate, but it also ensures opposing sides. It brings personal political views into our daily lives. We are coming to a point where a helicopter flying over an American town could spot each house’s political views. We are broadcasting our beliefs to the world so openly and unreservedly.
Rather than opening up debate and political discussions, oversharing makes people more defensive of their own views, as they receive overwhelming attacks. These attacks don’t stop people from sharing, they only entice people to share more statically, avoiding people, sites, or places where their views may receive criticism. Someone who flies the Republican flag isolates Democrat supporters; why would they want to engage in meaningful discourse over which candidate will be a better choice? They already seem decided. There’s an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ dynamic. Rather than speak of America or American problems, we break America down into divided subgroups, and we vehemently defend the position of our group. In not engaging with the other side, we don’t hear or understand their point of view, so we cannot even consider compromising.
Once Americans were proud to fly the Star-spangled Banner and took pride in a motto of ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. Now Americans seem keener to split than to remain united with ‘the other side’. Even if we do not agree with our neighbour’s political views, religious views, or way of life, we are one people living in a united nation. America is stronger not as a confederation of disagreeing states but under one federal government. Politics does not have to be a daily affair; we chose to make it so. We can choose to focus instead on what we have in common as Americans. Let’s save our personal political opinions for real debates and ballot boxes.
Edited by Luka Pahor; Photo credit: Del Christman