The Student Vote November 3, 2008Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election.
Tags: Corruption, Election, George W Bush, Politics, Voting, Youth Vote
My fellow Young Americans: Please wake up.
As a kid, I had a friend who was epically bad at “hide and seek.” Employing some flawed, kindergarten-level logic, he concluded that when he closed his eyes, he became invisible (to other people too). As childish as that is, there is an analogous situation among some of our peers today. Our government’s decisions affect everyone who lives here, but many young people tune out as if ignorance could shield us from energy crises, potentially lost abortion rights, and… well, economic Armageddon. Compared to older age demographics, today’s college students are largely apathetic about politics.
It was not always this way.
During the 1960s, college campuses were bastions of political activism. Students followed politics closely and demonstrated when they felt the government had misbehaved. That generation was incited by the Vietnam War and united by the energy and experiences of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we have a similarly unpopular war in Iraq and a government marred by frequent allegations of corruption, but our campuses are torpid in comparison.
So what has changed? The anti-war sentiment in the ’60s was strengthened by self-interest – some students protested because they didn’t want to be drafted. But our parents’ generation was motivated by idealism and indignation as well. The complacency among today’s youth is symptomatic of a greater problem.
We have grown up in an era of scandal. That in and of itself is not so remarkable; today’s politicians did not invent the abuse of power. Yet from George Tenet’s WMD controversy to the Abramoff lobbying fiasco and a long list of disgraced Congresspersons, we have seen our share of corruption. What separates the misdeeds of the last eight years is that they have gone largely unpunished. The Bush administration deceived the nation into a costly war, tortured detainees, and exercised illegal partisanship in its firing of federal prosecutors. But when the media break these stories, nothing happens. Congress has called high-level officials to testify, but even the Attorney General and Vice President have ignored subpoenas or claimed incredible memory loss under oath. With the exception of Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valarie Plame case, this administration has protected itself from repercussions (even before lame duck pardons).
As a result, we have become desensitized to corruption. Every American faces the same truth that an individual vote makes little difference. However, older voters have lived through different administrations and seen how votes can affect their lives. For today’s college students, many of whom were barely teenagers when George W. Bush was elected, the government appears to be a static entity. In 2000, likely the first election today’s young voters followed, Bush won without the popular vote by a Supreme Court decision. Then voting controversies plagued the 2004 election. That doesn’t inspire trust in democracy. College students are less likely to cast a ballot than their elders, but we have just as much at stake, if not more. Our generation needs to be more politically active.
I know we’re not all sitting around shirking our civic duty; many of us do care and work hard to better our communities. So why don’t we vote? According to CIRCLE (the acronym is annoying; I refuse to expand it out of spite), students don’t vote because politicians don’t target us. A researcher at Yale explains that campaigns don’t target youth voters because we historically do not donate much money. Others blame the decline in civics classes, and students themselves point to registration difficulties, convenience and the question of whether a single vote matters. In the face of these setbacks, youth voter turnout has been slowly rising since 2000, but it still barely broke 50 percent in 2004.
According to the 2006 census, there are 29.5 million potential voters under 24, and nearly a quarter of the American electorate is under the age of 30 (which technically comprises the ‘youth vote’). But even college students alone could wield significant electoral influence. And it appears that this year our voices will be heard. A recent survey of students in four battleground states found that an astounding 94 percent were registered to vote. But it’s not official until your ballot is in the box.
Tomorrow is Nov. 4. If you haven’t voted yet, please head to the polls and show the country that we’re ready to take America in a new direction. It’s time to take our future back.
A version of this post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.