Politics is nasty business. Just the mentioning of the word provokes harsh emotion from anyone with an opinion. In recent years, America’s electorate (citizens who are eligible to vote) can often be split into two opposing philosophies when it comes to the fact of the matter: those who can’t wait to get into the voting booth, and those who want to run in the opposite direction altogether.

According to “American Government: Roots and Reform” by  Karen O’Connor and Larry Sabato, America’s voter turnout has hit an increasingly low rate, nearing only 40% of an eligible population who vote regularly, with an estimated 25% of the population who vote occasionally, and 35% who rarely or never vote — a dramatically insignificant statistic in comparison to other voting democracies which include Italy, Australia, and Sweden, who’s percentages regularly exceed at least 70%.

The general population has been forced into this statistic due to many factors, and alongside the array of articles and various forms of media in the public eye currently promoting or bashing either candidate, every American citizen should have a few ground rules when it comes to being actively involved in the electoral process.

DO your research. When it comes to having an influence in what a future for ourselves and proceeding generations will encompass, we must know not only what we stand for personally, but what the candidates in the spotlight stand for as well. I highly doubt I am the first to bring it to everyone’s attention that not every word spoken or written by a candidate or their campaign will reign factual or unbiased. So read up on more than just one source, and make an educated decision first and foremost.

DON’T bandwagon. It’s not cool in football, and it’s not admired in politics. This is not a time to play “follow the leader,” whether it be your family, friends, or coworkers who attempt to sway you. Your opinion should be just that — yours. This goes along with doing your research; form your own views and establish your own standpoints. Don’t feel pressured to become partisan — more and more of the population registers independent lately, and it’s not written law that you must agree with every foundation that a political party may present. Be your own party.

DO vote! The popular opinion of today is that our vote is meaningless, or does not count. Regardless of your beliefs on whether or not casting that ballot will have a “true” impact on our government, it is better to take initiative in the situation than to wait for someone else to take it for us. The only person that can change that voter turnout percentage is you. If we wish to see ourselves having an impact, we must begin by acting on it.

DON’T be closed-minded. This goes hand in hand with not shoving our views down another’s throat. Our own experience will always remain unique, and gaining some perspective from someone with whom you may originally disagree with can actually turn out to be a very rewarding opportunity. Respect is earned, not given. And the best way to earn it is to stand firm in your own beliefs, while still remaining curious and not indifferent to other’s.

Our chance to change the world comes more than just once every four years, but in these critical times, we must remember to handle our responsibility in a manner that will accomplish more than it defeats.

Do you plan on voting in the 2012 election?