Involved or apathetic: the condition of the youth voter

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The world, at least as many perceive it, is a tumultuous place. Our country has entered a new modern era and young people feel increasingly that the political system doesn’t help them. There are very few young people actively involved in the political process. They don’t know, don’t care, and feel that their lack of knowledge further dissociates them. At the same time there are a significant amount of young people disproportionately involved. Where does this gap come from?

Wealth inequality is at an all time high in America. Young people are having a harder and harder time finding jobs. The American political system is increasingly corrupt and news is saturated with violence. All things considered, it’s not surprising that young people tend to feel that politics can’t help them. Many feel as though the system of corruption is so deeply entrenched that there’s nothing they can do as an individual to change it. So in turn very few young people vote.

Part of the problem, as it turns out is that young people are caught in this feedback loop of apathy. They feel that since they are uninformed, it is not their place to participate, and in turn drift farther and farther away from the political process. Not only do they feel as though they shouldn’t participate, they feel that others who are not particularly informed should not participate either (1). Which is vastly different from the views of older voters, who tend to be of the opinion that everyone should vote regardless of circumstance.

While there is a large portion of young people who have no inclination to participate in the process, there is a loud minority that are heavily involved. More than half of people volunteering, canvassing, or phone banking this election cycle are under 30. This is true, surprisingly, on both sides of the aisle. So why is this small group of young people so engrossed in their political beliefs when so many of their peers couldn’t be bothered? I would argue that it’s because of the media landscape that they inhabit.

Yeah, it’s true that there are bad things in the world. But the world is safer and more prosperous than it’s ever been. And while politics are just as corrupt as always, the internet gives citizens the power to organize and fight back in a way never previously possible. Young people tend to be apathetic and uninvolved, but the reality they are perceiving is one that is curated and presented to them. One that tells them that the world is a terrible place and that an individual voice doesn’t matter. So this leaves us with two groups, those whose non-normal media landscapes have cultivated an idea of individualist efficacy, and those who have been beaten down by a depressive news cycle. We can only hope that more and more young people disassociate themselves with the normative idea that they are not capable, and join in in the process. Because if young people let the country steer itself, it will almost certainly steer itself down the wrong path.