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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Is civic duty an antediluvian concept?

by David M. Brock

Photo: What does it mean to exercise one’s civic duty? Did you know that actions such as voting and paying taxes are also examples of performing one’s civic duty? But it is about more than just voting – it is about participation in society. These include things such as volunteering for an election campaign, donating money to a political party of candidate, serving as an impartial election officer, or even protesting peacefully. To learn about some of the myths surrounding contemporary civic duty, or to join the conversation, visit the IPAC Impact Blog at:

Three things we need to know about civic duty:

  1. Civic duty is the ethical obligation one feels to participate in society, and the belief that it is morally wrong not to participate. Voting and paying taxes are examples of exercising one’s civic duty.

  2. Feelings of civic duty can be so strong that sufficient gratification may result from simply fulfilling one’s duty. For example, the positive feeling that one gets from casting a ballot can be gratifying regardless of the outcome of the election.

  3. Civic duty is about more than voting – it is about participation. In an electoral democracy, civic duty can be exercised by volunteering for an election campaign, donating money to a political party or candidate, serving as an impartial election officer, protesting peacefully, and casting a ballot.

Three myths about civic duty:

Myth #1: Civic duty is old fashioned.

The Reality: Although the overall strength of civic duty does appear to be in decline, civic duty remains a strong motivating factor for why people vote, wouldn’t sell their ballot, and consider it wrong not to vote.

Myth #2: Civic duty is down because consumer choice is up.  

The Reality: Correlation is not causation. An increase in choice for music, clothing, and books, has not been shown to be the cause of any decline in civic duty. Civic duty and freedom of choice are compatible social goods.

Myth #3: People no longer believe in civic duty.

The Reality: Students on the streets of Quebec, spectators at last year’s Boston Marathon, and citizens in the Maidan or Tahrir appear to believe strongly in civic duty. Civic duty has motivated people to protest government policy, rush into chaos to save lives, and risk death for democracy.

David M. Brock is Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, and Chair of the IPAC NWT Regional Group. He is a Member of the Banff Forum and Fellow of Action Canada. He studied political science at Dalhousie University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Western Ontario. His writing has appeared in Policy Options, the Literary Review of Canada, and Northern Public Affairs.

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