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Teens are seldom considered to be a politically-active demographic. After all, they can’t vote. And, as Austin McBee, one of our Chase the Race 2016 Reporters mentioned in his application, people his age often consider politics to be confusing, boring, or both.
Teens Weigh In
In a blog entitled, “Why are teenagers not always concerned with politics?”, high school senior Aidan Rees offers a few more reasons for disinterest among his peers. “As a teenager, I am really not thinking about how the economy is doing or about healthcare because I am not in charge of my own money or health insurance,” he writes. He also mentions that the aversion may stem from the frequently-voiced adult complaint that politicians and “the system” lack integrity and effectiveness. Adults in his life have portrayed politics as a “cluttered and frustrating thing, instead of a method that gets things done in our country.”
Aidan’s blog elicited a supportive response from his peers, including one comment that said, “Most of us have no idea what is going on in politics and the election today. I think we just go with whatever our parents are doing.” Another teen said, “I didn't even know who was running for president,” but added, “This all changed when I took an American History and a Political Science class.”
The Buffalo News published a similar blog by Kyle Sims, in which he said, “If there’s no voice speaking for us in Congress or in the mayor’s office, then why should teenagers pay attention to politics?” and added, “It seems the only things the government can do to make us happier are to lower the driving age, increase minimum wage and extend summer vacation.” Yet, he cautions that turning a blind eye to politics is a mistake. “As the next generation of voters, it is our responsibility to at least have opinions and stay informed about our government… Don’t wait until you’re 18. Do some homework. Pick a side. Discover your voice.”
Political blogger Susannah Keogh from the University of Exeter believes that politics is “a two-way street.” She writes, “In order for politicians to help us, we have to be involved in some way in political affairs… How is it right for citizens to just thrust a list of grievances at politicians without making the effort to work out a solution together?” She advocates for strong political education in schools, citing a study showing that young people who had high quality civic education experiences in high school were more likely to vote, form political opinions, and understand campaign issues.
Census records show that young voters (age 18-29) traditionally turn out at the polls far less than older voters. Although young voters helped elect Barack Obama in 2008, fewer registered in 2012, and they were less engaged than other age groups, according to polls from the Pew Research Center. At that time, the share of young voters who were following the campaign very closely was roughly half what it was four years earlier (18%, down from 35%). According to the Census Bureau report, only 41.2% of registered voters age 18-24 actually voted. The turn-out rate for voters over 65, on the other hand, increased to 71.9%.
Will that trend reverse in the 2016 election? According to the recent Fusion Massive Millennial Poll, young people are planning to vote in 2016, and their top choice is Hillary Clinton. Young white millennials were the only demographic in the poll that skewed Republican. Other results of this poll indicate that young voters:
- Are increasingly engaged in the election
- Aren’t particularly well-informed (most can’t name either of their home-state senators)
- Say jobs and the economy are the most important issues
In general, while millennials from all groups seemed excited about going to the polls, they mentioned they’d be much more likely to actually do it if there were an easier way – like cell phone voting. Clearly young people’s habits and methods change as technology advances: A story in the DailyDot reported that almost twice as many 18- to 24-year-olds watched the first GOP debate via Snapchat Live Story than TV.
Try It – You’ll Like It!
As teen blogger Jacqueline Dautaj wrote, “Teens want to be heard, and there are many political issues that teens are interested in… they want their opinions to be considered.” Clearly, teens want to have a voice. Through education and hands-on involvement, that teen voice can become both well-informed, and significant for America’s future. That’s what Envision’s Chase the Race 2016 program is all about.
In closing, we’d like to share an excerpt from a Huffington Post article by 16-year-old Ruthie Gopin who became involved with a youth program similar in many ways to Chase the Race 2016: the Model United Nations. In this political simulation, students tackled "The Situation in North Korea." Ruthie was representing Brazil, one of North Korea's largest trading partners. Other teens were "the United Kingdom," "Russian Federation" and "India." All were trying to incorporate their ideas into the resolution they were drafting. “In that moment,” Ruthie writes, “we had taken on the same mindset as every powerful leader who has ever tried to negotiate an end to the conflict in North Korea. In that moment, I was at the center of something much bigger than myself… It was one of the best moments of my entire life.” Her recommendation for other teens: “Become involved in something you may have never considered before... you might just come to love it!”
LEARN MORE - Visit our Chase the Race 2016 website for information about our customized election curriculum, live onsite campaign events, coverage from students across the U.S. and much more!