Young voters' disengagement with politics

Young voters’ disengagement with politics skewing elections

The nation’s electorate is rapidly graying, with the cadre of older Americans who plan to take part in the Nov. 5 elections outnumbering people younger than 30 by more than 2 to 1, creating a distorted national politics in which the issues that dominate campaigns and Capitol Hill reflect an ever-smaller slice of the country.

This underrepresentation of young voters is becoming more acute: If current trends continue, the number of people 65 and older who vote in midterm elections is likely to exceed that of young adults by a 4 to 1 ratio by 2022.

These findings emerge from a study conducted by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, which surveyed the political beliefs and behavior of Americans of different ages and created a forecast of future elections based on population patterns and recent voting habits.

The study shows that young adults hold beliefs quite distinct from those of their parents and grandparents — more conservative in many of their views of government, more tolerant in many of their social values — and yet are not expressing them at the polls.

The net effect is an accelerating cycle of political disengagement. “If young people don’t vote, their issues don’t get addressed, which further diminishes their incentive to participate in the process and keeps the downward spiral going,” said Thomas Patterson, a Harvard political scientist, who studied public attitudes during the last presidential campaign. “We’ve got a real disconnect between the rational strategies for candidates to win elections and good strategies for maintaining a healthy democracy.”

Disaffected and relatively nonpartisan, the country’s 45 million young adults are a constituency-in-waiting — if candidates could capture their imagination. But in the final weeks before the next elections, which will determine which party controls Congress, attempts to capitalize on the potential young vote are rare, while appeals to older people are pervasive.

The themes that politicians are emphasizing this season are evident in the advertisements that Wichita residents see on television for their local congressional race. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., has used an ad in which the congressman walks through a hospital corridor as he tells voters, “I’m working to secure prescription drug coverage for seniors, just like we fought to protect their Social Security, their Medicare and their retirement savings.” His Democratic challenger, attorney Carlos Nolla, is airing an ad in which an elderly man and woman sit at a table criticizing the incumbent. “The idea to invest Social Security money in the stock market,” she says, “could’ve wiped us out.”

Those ads reflect a basic political logarithm: Campaign funds are used to target people who are going to vote. “Are people advertising on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? Absolutely not,” said a GOP consultant involved in campaign strategy nationwide, and who requested anonymity. “Any political party that allocated a huge chunk of its resources for a good civic purpose [increasing the participation of young adults] would be malfeasant in its prime duty, which is to win elections.”

John Chiola, 27, of Goose Creek, S.C., thinks politics is “a game” and most politicians are crooks. “It’s all about greed, money, who has the most power, who can manipulate whom,” said Chiola, a BellSouth technician. He has never voted and doubts that he ever will. “It seems pointless,” he said.

I find this extemely discouraging. I feel that it’s more important than ever to get rid of the older generation of politicians who don’t represent mainstream America. I believe most Americans are far more libertarian in their beliefs than the social conservatives in power who promote the war on drugs and abstinance only education.

Young people can turn this country around if they vote.

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