Issues important to
youths often not important to politicians
By Molly Freedenberg
Rock the Vote. Rock and Register. Get out and Vote.
messages, and others like them, are cropping up sporadically in TV
programs, local newspaper ads and political party-sponsored events
geared to the 18- to 24-year-old set.
The reason? Young people
aren't voting. In droves.
Voter turnout for people between 18 and
24 is at a record low, based on election data.
According to data
from the 1996 national elections, only 32.4 percent of youths voted,
compared to 67 percent of senior citizens.
The numbers indicate a
problem, but the solution might be more complex than simply
overcoming youth apathy, said Rashad Robinson, field director for
the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington.
"That youths are
apathetic is a sexy angle to go after," said Robinson, "but it's a
Megan Jennings, 23, campus organizer of the
California Student Public Interest Research Group at the University
of California, Santa Barbara, agreed. It's not that young people
don't care about anything, she said, but that they're disengaged
from the political process.
Candidates don't focus on youths, so
youths don't focus on them, and the disinterest becomes mutual and
Jennings remembers watching the 2000
presidential debates on television.
"All they talked about was
Social Security, over and over. ... I have grandparents, and I care
about Social Security, but there are other things we care about,"
Those candidates who do discuss issues important to
youths, such as college financing, the job market and affordable
housing, don't always talk to the young people themselves.
don't look to television ads to fill in that gap, because they don't
target youths either.
"The ads weren't during 'Friends' or 'Buffy
the Vampire Slayer,' when young people were watching TV," Robinson
Those young people who are involved in politics say their
parents are politically aware or active, had newspapers around the
house and discussed current events.
Without those influences
growing up, said Robinson, youths don't become involved in politics
until they have a personal investment in an issue. And that may not
happen until they're out of the "youth" bracket.
Tom Hogen-Esch, a
professor of political science at California State University,
Northridge, said youths often see candidates as being all alike
because as candidates have become increasingly more moderate since
the '70s, youths are typically idealistic and more liberal.
result is that they don't show up at the polls and aren't
represented in political decisions, he said.
Hogen-Esch said the
problem of low voter turnout must be addressed because it isn't
restricted to young people.
Robinson suggested changing the system
by making a statement of its importance, such as declaring Election
Day a national holiday.