Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why Don't More Young People Vote?

Disheartened by the ass-kicking that Democrats took in yesterday's election, I decided to conduct a little survey in my classes today.  I asked three classes (of about 25 students each) at Cal State Fullerton how many of them voted in yesterday's election.  The results?  Not one.  Not a single student voted.

Why?! I asked them, my faith in the future shaken a bit by this revelation.  Granted most of these students are 18 or 19, but they are all eligible to vote.  If these students represent a cross-section of college students in general, the situation seems disturbingly bleak.  "Why didn't you guys vote?" I asked earnestly. I received a variety of responses which, taken together, represent a crisis of civic responsibility (and American democracy in general) that needs to be seriously addressed.

Some students were unaware that there even was an election.  This can (partly) be explained by the fact that it was a midterm election, not a presidential one, and midterms are less of a media spectacle than presidential elections.  This suggests that, for young people to vote, it must be a media spectacle, which is problematic.

Others said that they don't watch the news or read newspapers, so they were uninformed about the election and candidates.  This suggests that older folks who rely on "out dated" media forms like TV news and print newspapers are actually MORE connected to the goings-on of politics and elections than the younger "hyperconnected" internet generation.  When I asked students where they get their news about the world, they said things like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

Other students said they simply don't care.  While a part of me can appreciate this cavalier/fuck you attitude, I can't help but think of a quote by historian Howard Zinn: "You can't be neutral on a moving train."  What this means is that inaction and apathy have political consequences.  One of the consequences yesterday was the fact that conservative Republicans kicked ass, and liberal Democrats lost...despite the fact that most of my students identified as "liberal/Democrat."  By their not voting, they are complicit in the other side winning.

What is the answer to this problem?  How can voting become "cool" and "sexy" for young people?  I don't know.  Voting requires a level of awareness, responsibility, and willingness to do unsexy research--qualities that seem to be going away, thanks to a general consumerist mindset, insular social media, and plain old apathy.  I don't have any answers here.  I am sad.  I want things to change, but I don't know how.  Come on, young people...wake up!

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