Dramatic Stories, Dramatic Results: How Comics can Increase Civic Engagement

If you want dramatic results, use drama to create them!

The visuals and fast pace of comics create excitement and emotional impact that can inspire people to become involved in politics and their communities.

Voter turnout in the US is a pain point in any conversation about American politics–statistics show across the board that voter turnout is lower than in most developed countries, and that a large percentage of non-voters are young, less affluent, and minorities. While it’s impossible to say for certain what specific factors would make any particular person vote, studies do show that when there is “uncertainty” about the outcome of an election, turnout is higher. This parallels the appeal of a story; the tension heightens as uncertainty about the fate of the characters rises, and the drama draws the reader in. If it’s drama, then, that draws people into voting, comics are a powerful dramatic tool for increasing voter turnout and making a difference in elections.

Issues Close to Home

To bring the issue of civic engagement closer to my home State, I looked into this past month’s municipal elections and found a disturbing fact. Each decision made in the Governor’s office, the Legislature, and at the municipal level affects individual citizens every day, yet, voter turnout for the 2015 Phoenix General Elections was extremely low. Some Phoenix citizens may not be aware that a transportation sales take was raised from 0.4% to 0.7% last month. Even more concerning, however, is the fact that some Phoenix citizens may not even have been aware that their city’s general elections took place last month. One Phoenix City Council member, Michael Nowakowski, suggested that to increase voter turnout, “Phoenix should engage the younger generation between election cycles by educating them on how policy affects them personally.” What better way to do that than with the graphics and stories in comics?

Comics are powerful agents for conveying ideas, motivating action and changing people’s minds. Comics have traditionally been used to satirize politics, which stands as a testament to their ability to convey strong ideas quickly and memorably. In some cases, these comics have inspired violent reactions from readers. With this power, comics can bring to life words like “immigration” and “poverty,” which we hear so frequently on the news that we can become desensitized to the pain and the struggle they represent in real people’s lives. But a story can bring the suffering to life, and bring people to the ballot box to see change happen.

Comics can teach people the importance of civic engagement through the power of storytelling. The colorful imagery and fast pace of comics creates emotional impact and makes the reader feel invested in the outcome. When used to convey already strong ideas, such as the importance of being active in the community, the compound effect is the potential for a dramatic increase in civic engagement.

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