Elections are the basic tenet of democracy as they ensure the participation of everybody in the government. That everybody should have a say is a given but is what everybody has to say of equal value? The ancient Greeks thought not and excluded women and slaves; modern states include all: young people, ignorant or illiterate people and university graduates. Does either of these systems ensure real democracy or is some other form of restriction necessary? Education is one such criterion and it is safe to say that real democracy is most certainly only possible with educated voters.
The first point to consider is what exactly is being demanded of the voters during an election: they are being asked if they have read, understood and approve of the party’s program. In order to be able to do this, they need to have understood the economic policy, the foreign policy, the educational policy and the like; they need to have formed an opinion about all of this and determined where they stand. It is all very well to say that everybody is influenced by the loss of freedom and that everybody is able to judge this. Yet an election is much more than this; reducing the whole process to a choice between loss of freedom and democracy is a gross oversimplification. Hand on heart; is everybody in the country truly capable of making an informed decision during an election? There is no denying that the better educated the voter, the better he is able to understand the issues facing the country.
True, there are plenty of fliers being distributed, appearances being made on television talk shows and articles in newspapers that detail the background and views of each candidate but who really reads or watches them? It cannot be denied that many people are influenced by the image the candidate presents rather than his views. A candidate’s smile, the sparkle in his eyes, how he relates to the public and his demeanor may take precedence over the actual content of a speech he makes. Vague promises concerning higher wages, pensions, bonuses, food handouts and the like may blind voters to the realities. Facts such as these are less likely to cloud the judgment of a university graduate who takes an active interest in public affairs than an uneducated farmer. It could be claimed that basic common sense has nothing to do with level of education but with no disrespect, being astute is not enough; prior knowledge is also necessary before casting one’s ballot.
There is no denying that “vox populi” or the voice of the people is important but what exactly they say is equally important. For what the public has to say to matter, they need to be informed and knowledgeable; they shouldn’t be easily swayed by rhetoric as less educated voters are more likely to be. Misinformed and illiterate voters have done untold damage to so called democracies; various ‘democracies’ in Africa are a case in point. This being the case, real democracy is only possible if the voters are well educated and well informed; the opposite is too risky to consider.