According to the Associated Press, more people watched the Patriots defeat the Seahawks in the 2015 Super Bowl than voted in the midterm elections. For junior Mikayla Tilley, her reasons for not being politically active are simple.
“Sometimes I feel like most politicians are annoying because they only go to Washington for the money and the power,” Tilley said. “Most of them probably aren’t going to make any substantial changes; they just keep getting voted in, but they haven’t really done anything.”
This disinterest in politics, defined as political apathy, is a common view shared among young people. The Center For Information and Research On Civic Learning And Engagement found that only one in four millennials—people aged 18 through 29—voted in last November’s Midterm.
Civics teacher Skip Thibault explains their reasoning.
“[Millennials] feel really removed from what is being done,” Thibault said. “Young people feel like the government is doing things to them, instead of for them. I even feel that way sometimes…. It’s important to them to make sure they get involved and vote for people that are going to help take care of them.”
Some say millennials’ apathy in government translates to their specific political identification. A recent study by the Pew Research Center survey found that half of young people now describe themselves as political independents or unaffiliated with any political party.
“People like some things about the Democratic Party, and people like some things about the Republican Party…. Millennials start to feel like they can’t really choose,” said Ken Rogerson, a Professor at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Millennials’ indifference to politics isn’t just limited to voting. The 2013 Harvard Public
Opinion Project found that a majority of 18-to-29 year-old Americans would choose to replace every member of Congress if given the chance. The polling director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, John Della Volpe, sums up the results.
“Young Americans hold the president, Congress and the federal government in less esteem almost by the day, and the levels of engagement they are having in politics are also on the decline,” Della Volpe said in a media release.
A poll conducted by The Northwood Omniscient revealed that while 40 percent of students identify as politically active, only 58 percent could correctly identify the Speaker of the House. Peter Levine, who studies young people’s civic participation at Tufts University, says that political disinterest isn’t specific to the United States.
“Parties all over the world have lost support,” Levine said. “People are less willing to be part of a big organized groups and the parties themselves now have very weak structures. American political parties used to have parts of their organizations in every community and that has all basically been pushed aside.”
Despite this, Thibault believes that millennials will become more attentive to politics as they mature.
“In most cases, the older somebody is, the more likely they are to vote,” Thibault said. “They have a lot more at stake with things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and they know they are going to need that government assistance at the end of their life. I don’t think young people think that way at all. They don’t really think of,‘what is the government involvement in my life.’ Other than this school system, there isn’t that much.”
Young adults form their political views through a variety of sources. The Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of those 18-29-year olds cite the Internet as a main news source, while 55 percent cite television.
Haley Easthom, a politically involved junior at Chapel Hill High School, says it is difficult to form a clear opinion with such an abundance of resources.
“We see a lot of ads and listen to our parents, but a lot of ads and TV shows that your parents put on definitely influence how you think and make it not an ideological decision,” Easthom said. “I think everyone should strive for an ideological position, but that’s hard when there are so many places to look.”
Some countries, like Australia, use a system of compulsory voting to combat low voter turnout, where electors are obligated to vote in elections. Thibault says there are issues with this method.
“The argument against that is that you have all kinds of people voting that have no idea what they are voting for,” Thibault said. “They might be voting because some 30 second TV ad they saw that is full of half truths and only one side of the story. They are voting for a single issue, when there are so many things that are really out there.”
For junior Ricky Young, voting is the easy choice.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t change anything that is happening,” Young said. “It is kind of pointless to complain about all the stuff that is going on and not vote. Even though one vote doesn’t feel like it would have much sway, it could make all the difference. If you vote, at least you have the chance to have your voice heard.”
– By Chloe Gruesbeck