I'm young and I vote, but I'm a real oddball in that respect. Most of my friends couldn't care less about expressing their opinions on a ballot. As far as they're concerned, all politicians are favor-trading extortionists who gained power by servicing the will of blood-money capitalists. Sometimes it's hard to argue with them.
Nationally, only 16 percent of 18- to 25-year olds cast their ballots in the 2000 elections. Some estimates suggest that only 13 percent of people in this age group will bother to vote in 2002.
Most young people don't vote simply because they "do not care," or because voting "doesn't make a difference," according to a recent survey conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates and Bellwether Research. Not surprisingly, most of us believe politicians pay little or no attention to the concerns of young adults. This alienation from politics is distressing but understandable.
Various campaigns and programs attempt to get the youth more involved in the political process. There's MTV's "Rock the Vote," and various local events held by the Youth Vote Coalition, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C. with an office in Denver. But research indicates such efforts have had little impact.
The real problem cannot be solved with pep rallies, rock musicians or telephone canvassing. People in this age group simply don't feel like they are a part of the political dialogue, which is limited almost exclusively to two parties.
For most young people, the choice between Politician (R) and Politician (D) is irrelevant. Neither of these political mastodons is capable of adapting to radically new voter opinions. Moreover, neither party is particularly concerned with young people's views. After all, why would mainstream parties court a constituency that doesn't vote?
The result is a bit of a vicious cycle, where nonparticipation among the youth results in less representation, and less representation further discourages participation. Perhaps if young adults saw real alternatives offered in an election, they would have more interest. But most just see Pepsi and Coke.
The result? Young people feel external to the political system, and don't want to have anything to do with it. This is not to say that the American youth is apathetic about social problems, but rather that our frustrations have been diverted away from the normal political arena. Popular participation is focused on activism and demonstrations, not on voting and party politics. Environmentalist, antifree-trade and human-rights groups, etc. have flourished; a united and cohesive opposition, on the other hand, is conspicuously absent.
So what can be done to reintroduce young adults into the political discourse? For starters, middle-aged candidates often don't know how to address young voters. Quite often, the issues we care about are similar to older voters. But don't talk to us about prescription coverage or your support from small businesses. We don't own small businesses. We're stuck slinging coffee for $5 an hour, still can't pay rent, and Gov. Owens is spending our money on his "Abstinence Education Program"... what the hell is that!?
Try issues like job creation and the economy, financial support for students, environmental concerns, and health-care coverage for single adults.
It would also help to teach voting procedures in school. Most high-school seniors don't know how to register or where to vote, and where to find information on candidates and ballot initiatives. Mock elections and political discussions in the classroom would help get kids interested.
Of greater consequence, many young people feel their vote is powerless against the established web of big-dollar interest groups. The current system alienates young voters, who have no real vested economic interests, and gives wealthy constituencies undue influence while ignoring the rest of us. It seems ironic that politicians appear to be so disgusted by the rash of corporate scandals, but can't pass a campaign finance reform bill without filling it full of holes first.
This problem may require a fifth check and balance to insulate government from manipulation by corporate interests: publicly funded campaigns.
This may be the only instrument capable of leveling the political playing field -- making candidates able to run based on their administrative rather than economic qualifications. Candidates would be free to pursue the support of constituencies that don't have great financial resources, such as the country's youth.
Adam Krefting is a 22-year-old Colorado College grad who merrily slaves away as an Independent intern.
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