This paper argues that the current perspectives of teenagers toward voting and politics necessitates intervention at homes, in schools and in the community. Young people need to know that voting is important and that their voices count as much as anyone else. In an effort to gain more critical insight into the phenomenon, 3 teenagers were selected for in depth interviews related to the subject.
The Subjects and Methods
1. Will you vote when you turn 18 and if you are already 18, have you registered? (Why?)
2. Do you think that your vote matters? (Why or Why not?)
3. Why do you think young people would choose not to vote and what do you think could be done that would get more young people to participate in the voting process?
At the conclusion of the interview, each student was also asked to provide further discussion on the matter if they thought they had something more to add to the discussion. The researcher later went back and listened to the recordings to find themes, contrasts and correlations in the responses of the students.
The Results of the Study
In regards to the first question about voting when they turned 18, none of the respondents seemed particularly motivated to do so. Two of the respondents, including the young girl, said they would likely not vote when they turn 18 and the other said they "probably" would but they were not sure as "they really hadn't thought about it." In this particular response, there was no hostility toward the question or process, but there was certainly the impression that it was not really something in which they had put much consideration. Student Y confirmed this assumption, "I probably won't vote, you know, I have a lot of stuff going on and I'm not sure if I'd remember to." When the researcher presented the follow up question, What other things do you have going on that would prevent you from voting, she explained, "You know, I'll be getting ready for college, I have to get my regular drivers license and there's a lot of school events coming up. My brain will be in a million places." Student Z suggested distractions would keep him from voting as well. He stated, "That will be my senior year, I probably won't be focused on that. It will be my last football season, I'll be focusing on college and that kind of junk."
When prompted as to whether or not they felt their vote matters, one respondent said "no," the other said, "probably not much," and the third responded, "I guess, as much as anyone else's." In regards to the "no" answer, which was provided by Student X, he went on to explain his answer, "I'm sure they wont' miss one vote, besides, this year I don't like either candidate." When it was asked why they didn't like either candidate he continued, "All the politicians are out of touch, they don't represent me or even my family. A bunch of old rich guys that just keep sending young people like me to war for stuff that doesn't make sense." Student Y explained her "probably not much" response, "Really, one vote out of all the people in the entire US doesn't matter." Student Z, who stated that his vote would count as much as anyone else's, expressed a similar ambiguity to his feelings, "I guess our votes matter, they don't matter much. Nothing really changes, that's what my Dad and Granddad say." He continued, "I think all the candidates are crooks and I don't want to vote for a crook."
The final question, which focuses on why young people would choose not to vote and what could be done to get more young people to participate yielded a variety of responses. Student X said, "Young people don't vote because they don't care or because they don't think they matter in politics. I don't know how you'd fix this. A teacher can stand up there all day and tell us we matter but they need to show. Maybe if they showed a single example of a student and their vote actually changing something or making a difference we could be swayed." Student Y continued a similar line of thought, "I don't know, they are probably like me, we are only one voice, we don't even have a say in our school or at home, why would we have a say in government. I don't get it, I don't trust it. They just say bad things about each other. I don't think you can fix that." Student Z had a similar show us attitude, "Someone would have to show us that our opinion mattered. Right now I don't think many people believe that. Besides, we have important things to do, this is a very busy time in our lives, it affects our entire future." As a follow up question for Student Z, the researcher asked as to whether or not they thought that voting "affects their entire future," and he said, "No, not as much going to college."
In regards to the responses presented by the respondents, the overall theme of young people voting was one of neutrality. Young people in general did not think their vote, or anyone's vote made a big difference, they did not seem particularly motivated to register to vote, they did not think that voting was a high priority when compared to other things they had to do for their future and none of them thought any particular candidate could make noticeable change or represent their interests. Politics, as a result, was something very foreign to them. In general, there was a problem with the young people seeing micro verses macro elements at work. The political sphere is a macro phenomenon and the many things they mentioned being important to them are of the micro variety. They saw no connection between the micro and the macro. For example, some of the things they concluded were important were: driver's licenses, colleges, extra curricular activities and grades. Though these are obviously connected to the political sphere because the standards are either set by the sate or the federal government, the connection to how these relate to voting was not present in any answer.
The connections were so loose that they did not even seem very motivated to consider other possibilities. The "show me" responses, however, did prove something important. There was enough correlated thematic in the responses that suggested that if they were shown connections or that their opinion does matter, then they would reconsider their present position. They very much directly stated that simply telling them in a lecture that their vote counts was not enough. They wanted actual proof and examples, which would be equitable to being "shown" that their opinion does count. While these perspectives were important, perhaps more important was the unabashed and simplistic perspective of young people regarding the US political system. The US political system has become quite partisan and there is little synergy or compromise anymore in regards to facing complex issues. The economy is in a problematic place and the US continues to be involved in foreign struggles on a military level. All of the young people illustrated that they felt the politicians were out of touch with the reality of small people and were caught in a system where little marked change would ever occur. This particular deep introspection provided by the students in simplistic terms was not something that was expected by the researcher and it proved to be incredibly insightful.
The responses of the student and the selected data related to young people voting backs the proposed thesis that the current perspectives of teenagers toward voting and politics necessitates intervention at homes, in schools and in the community. At the present time, young people do not think that voting is important for two reasons 1). they do not see a singular vote as being influential and 2). they doubt the ability for real change to occur as a result of voting. One one level, the importance of voting can be changed but it would require a paradigm shift. Communities, schools and parents need to demonstrate to young people that voting is important and that their perspectives are also important. Young people have to be more cognizant of the connections between the micro things they think are important and the macro things that they do not think are as important to them. If they could see how all of it works together in a systems capacity and real examples of change through voting and the voice of young people could be demonstrated, a paradigm shift may be able to occur.
On an unanticipated level, the critique of the current partisan political system requires change on the government level. If young people are able to see blatant flaws in the political system and the lack of cooperation between the two dominant parties, change on the political level would also result in change on the micro level. If politics was more concerned with solutions rather than partisan power through political smearing and closed minded perspectives, the young people would notice. As was demonstrated through this research, young people pick up on modeled behavior. The behavior of the politicians is currently such that young people are not viewing them as being strong leaders or with any of their particular interests in mind. If these young people carry such perspectives into their adult lives, this could be equitable to a full breakdown of the democratic system. For representative democracy to work, people need to believe their opinions matter and the representatives need to be beacons of the people. Based on the perspectives of the young people who were consulted for this study, they do not appear to be confident in either proclamation and that is a problem.
"Twice as Many 18 Year Olds Use Facebook Than are Registered to Vote" The Telegraph.
"Young Voters: Facts vs. Myths." Rock the Vote.
Author InfoA Voting Student
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Student surveyor on voting in political elections.