The Youth Vote — Where Has It Gone?

On November 2nd, 2010, Americans went to the voting booths to vote in the mid-term elections. The Tea Party established itself as a semi-official party, and through its fervor, handed the House of Representatives to the GOP. The election also made president Obama evaluate his executive strategy with a face of humility on 60 Minutes.

With these attempts at political purging, you’d think America is a healthy democracy, with citizens having a solid grip on civic duty. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, especially concerning younger voters. According to The Huffington Post, this year, “An estimated 20.4 percent of young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections”. 20.4 percent is a dismal number, considering that younger people tend to be more able-bodied and energetic than older people. When you factor this in with the momentous political shifts arising from the mid-term election, it seems America is being governed by its fading citizens, rather than by its heirs. Are older voters the owners of this country, and young people its inheritors-to-be? If so, then why aren’t younger voters interested in what they’ll inherit? Maybe these heir-apparents are disinclined to take responsibility until their fortune is square in their hands and the parents are long gone.

This makes sense. Voters above age 30 probably have more experience than younger voters. They’ve been through more elections, and have seen more political achievements and disappointments. They also have more options to choose from in their political memory. Perhaps older voters want to correct a mistake made a few years ago or a mistake made 20 years ago. Older voters swing the political pendulum back and forth every time they vote by means of political memory, whether conscious or subconscious. They want to get it right every time they go to the voting booth. This is not to say that young people don’t want to do the right thing, but perhaps because they’ve experienced fewer momentous social and economic realities, they don’t readily reach for the policy tool-kit, namely voting, when compared to older voters.

Older voters might also feel that they have more at stake, so they flock to the voting booths to make sure they make their collective voices heard. For instance, many senior citizens that are retired depend on Social Security and Medicare to live. Some senior citizens are concerned that, because of a poor job market and inflation due to printing money, their buying power will be diminished. This means senior citizens embrace civic duty to attempt to set things straight. This makes sense: people nearing the end of their lives are more vulnerable to economic circumstances. Policy therefore affects the senior citizen voting segment in ways that younger voters can only imagine, let alone deliberate. Policy can make or break older voters; they feel the direct impact of a tax rise or a cut in certain essential care services. Modern youth voters, on the other hand, tend to still be partially, if not completely, subsidized by family; usually at college, enjoying the cloistered walls of academia and focused study. Even younger voters that are working full-time and living on their own still are more likely than older voters to be single and without child or mortgage commitments.

So are older voters just more dutiful because of serious life commitments brought on by the frailties of age and the responsibilities they’ve accumulated? Or are roughly 80% of younger voters disinclined to vote because of qualities inherent to their particular generation—a generation interested in things more exciting or pressing than civic duty and seemingly esoteric politics. What exactly is more exciting than civic duty to young people?

Well, a lot of things. People below the age of 30 are more technologically savvy than their older counterparts. This is not to say that people above the age of 30 don’t know anything about technology, but that those under 30 use technology as a natural extension of communication more than any other group. This means more time is spent online or in text communication with one another. Even if younger people are politically aware, there may be an inclination to express thoughts in blogs or Facebook’s functions rather than to physically go out and vote.

Then there are vote-eligible young people that are politically apathetic. Myriad electronic devices and avenues of entertainment give a range of delights to choose from. New phones are constantly coming out with newer and more integral features that connect one with the virtual world. The result is constant communication where attention is leveled at the virtual world rather than the policy world. Who has time to keep up with politics when you have to keep up with your gadgets and the endless virtual conversations running through them? When someone asks you a question on Facebook, you tend to answer. Policy makers aren’t really asking direct questions to virtual denizens. Young people have access to current events beyond social media but have very little drive to engage in them. Current events and politics may be on their mind, or worse, buried in their subconscious, but they won’t take priority to issues that are not immediate and do not relate to them directly. This could explain why younger voters feel that politics are beyond their grasp.

Technology is a fast-paced, ever-growing organism that keeps besting itself with every development and release cycle. Commercial engines such as push marketing instill desire for the latest product, the newest rendition of their favorite gadget for application — something better and current. It’s this keeping-up-with-the-Steve Jobs race that saps a lot of energy out of younger voters. Young voters are not compelled to keep up with policy because it’s not pushed on them by slick and aggressive marketing campaigns. This is not to say that all potential voters under age 30 are exclusively stuck in technology’s wiry web, but technology and pervasive digitization is now a binary dye that courses the veins of modern society. There are now more things vying for attention: connectivity and constant technological updates (gadgets, software, television formats, etc.) versus ponderous debates about esoteric financial nuances regarding Wall Street taking place in the echo chamber that is congress.

In order to get younger voters more interested in these issues (to make them more aware of politics’ direct influence on their lives) perhaps measures need to be taken to make civic duty just as pervasive as technology. Now, technology’s presence is pervasive because of market forces. It seems as if civic duty hasn’t caught up with our commercial culture — that consumerism is bolstered by marketing and technology while civic duty is left to dwell in the hearts of dusty idealists. Perhaps civic duty needs to be commercialized by market forces to push the idea of it to the forefront of citizens’ shopping cart. Indeed, it is the shopping cart that is most visible and important to the average citizen — whether it’s at the supermarket or on Amazon.com.

I’m not saying that the idea of civic duty must be sold, but perhaps it should be bundled in with the process of selling regular products and services. Perhaps companies can compete with another by promoting civic duty as a part of their company ideals like companies do with the idea of Green living. Civic duty could be a branding tool that can distinguish one company from another. If companies start to compete with one another on this ticket, then perhaps it will course the veins of consumer culture, as Green marketing is doing now in the food industry. And if it’s pervasive enough to subconsciously pull at customers’ inner sense of duty and dignity, it can turn consumers into citizens that vote because it’s the normal thing to do.

Sources

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