Healing the Divide: Political literacy is a tricky but necessary skill for every American

On Tuesday, millions of Americans voted on new policies in their states, cities and counties, and though the votes are still being counted, now is a great time to start looking at the results of the midterm election and their possible effects on our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, unreliable sources of information and a convoluted political system make becoming politically literate difficult.

The world of politics may seem overwhelming and its jargon confusing to the unfamiliar citizen, but at the very least, Americans must be aware of the biases and influences impacting the information they consume. Here are a few tips on how to familiarize yourself with the rhetoric and discourse circulating in the media as well as sources you can use to better understand our political system and the implications of the 2018 midterm election results.

“Google it” might seem like too obvious of an answer, but looking something up on a search engine is a fast and efficient way to find accurate and multi-sided information.However, not all results on Google may be credible, so it is crucial to cross-check your facts.

Always proceed with caution. If your newsfeed seems cluttered with flashing headlines and outrageous claims, you’re probably seeing sensationalist content, as opposed to factual, impartial content.

Left and right-leaning news sources will often omit information that doesn’t support the agendas of the political parties they’re aligned with. If you’re reading an article published by one source, cross-check it with an article that covers the same topic from a different news outlet. A key indicator of bias is emotionally charged rhetoric.

Reading objective newsletters such as Ballotopedia’s is a quick way to gain systematic knowledge and increase awareness of controversial political practices that are normally subjectively covered in digital media. Ballotpedia’s newsletter provides clear updates on policy and shifts in public office without additional narrative.

Books are also excellent resources for political education because they are objective and contain peer-reviewed information. If you’re looking to learn more about America’s current political system, “What You Should Know About Politics…But Don’t” by Jessamyn Conrad is an essential read. The book is a nonpartisan overview of issues ranging from lobbying to international affairs, but it transcends contemporary climate with its sociological and historical insight, making it a prime educational resource.

“Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do” by Andrew Gelman also provides excellent information about America’s election process. Gelman reveals the entanglement of political polarization with voter interests while offering suggestions for how politicians should better handle citizen interests. Gelman’s work focuses its analyses on the aftermath of the 2000 election, but its examination of political voting patterns is timeless.        

Participating in compassionate, meditative political discussions starts with understanding how our country’s political system functions and is sustained through thoughtful consumption of accurate political information. If each of us learns about and open-mindedly interprets political news, our society will become more unified and democratic.

Arianna Scavone is a junior majoring in communication and law, history and culture. Her column, “Healing the Divide,” runs every other Thursday.