Apathy Among the Young

by Ali Meyer // Published June 3, 2009
The claim that voter apathy seems to reside most stubbornly in young voters is not a new one. Despite the optimism expressed by certain groups ("Rock the Vote," "Vote or Die"), young people have been a notably elusive demographic at the polls.

Many tactics have been employed in the attempt to combat this trend-Obama's Facebook fluency, Michael Steele's attempts at incorporating hip-hop jargon, the ageing Ron Paul's Internet "r3VOLution." Such blatant pandering to "cool" new technologies and youth lifestyles may seem in theory to be the most efficacious method of gaining young peoples' support, but current numbers seem to indicate otherwise.

The upcoming European Parliament elections serve here as a case in point. Candidates have invested a disproportionate amount of time and resources into Bebo, Twitter, and Facebook activities promoting themselves. The European Parliament itself has put a variety of videos on Youtube encouraging young people to vote, and "Can You Hear Me Europe" ads have aired on MTV.

However, candidates' apparent enthusiasm for youth-dominated technologies seems to be a unilateral endeavor. According to the youth organization SpunOut.ie, 70 percent of citizens between the ages of 18 and 25-over 500,000 people-were not planning to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections. It is also telling that only 64 percent of eligible 18 to 21 year olds in Ireland are even registered to vote, according to a study by the National Youth Council.

This is not a new development, either. In the last European election, 2004, 77 percent of 18-24 year olds declined to vote, compared to 55 percent of the total electorate. Similar issues regarding youth voting practices can also be found in the United States, Canada, and most other developed nations.

And it's not simply the lack of a connection between candidates and young voters-youth don't seem to care about the issues that traditionally affect them, either. Joe Biden, for example, was on the record as a strong supporter of the RIAA, and he introduced the RAVE Act multiple times. Both of these actions would intuitively lose him the support of young people; however, this was quite obviously not the case.

So what is causing the apathy among youth that incurs them not to vote? When interviewed, most young people say that they know that their vote won't count, so they don't bother voting. And in many respects, this fundamental disrespect for the system is not unfounded-in California or Texas, a vote for president simply won't count.

A systematic system of electoral reform that enfranchises residents perhaps will encourage young people to be more engaged and to vote. A generation of apathy is dangerous, and electoral reform may once again be the answer.