By Caiti Maumenee, Staff Writer
In recent days the media has continually bombarded us with political jargon. Campaigns dominate TV ads, radio stations and the web spewing buzz words like “primary polls,” “foreign policy,” “economic reform” or “partisan vs. bipartisan,” forming a general cloud of conflict and confusion. And this is only the beginning of the presidential political season.
As a college student, I will be the first to admit that following this new popularity circus in the political ring today is not at the top of my prioritized to do list. However, a few weeks ago I began to change my mind. After discovering my own impassiveness to the recent developments in the political scene and its candidates, I began to see this apathy in others and recognize it as a much larger, endemic problem in my generation of students all over the country. Having discovered this, I began to try and find out what exactly was the root of this lack of political interest.
My early opinion on political passivity on college campus stemmed from the belief that this generation was raised to accept that political ignorance is only natural, that we are programmed by our education and culture to see politics as irrelevant. This apathetic approach towards politics can easily force us to become surface level citizens in an effort to avoid getting stuck in the complicated and often tedious political conversation. However, as a young adult it is hard to ignore the fact that political ignorance and apathy are a widespread problem. It is of critical importance to research candidates and thereby enable a decision based on logic rather than pure emotion. Exercising our right to vote is a vital component to maintaining and supporting a democracy.
Dr. Steve Clements, the Chair of the Political Science Department, shared that he believes voter apathy isn’t a new phenomenon. It has been occurring for decades. As it applies to young adults especially college students he stated that college students aren’t ignorant rather they are inexperienced. “As young adults gain experience —and pay a range of taxes!—they realize the extent to which their personal and social and economic lives are affected by politics. This in turn usually prods them to educate themselves about our political system.” It is absurd to think that politics will come naturally to us. It is a process that has to be learned, made personal and practiced.
Research is a valuable tool in coming to understand not only our political process but also preparing our decisions about candidates. Chris Isaacs, a graduate of the 2015 class, shared that we are “inconsistent, and don’t understand the root of our own beliefs as well as politicians’ and where they all stem from.” Knowing the values of a politician requires us to spend time gathering information from a variety of sources. This provides a wider perspective of their validity and reliability in office. If we don’t know the core values, then we rely on emotion. In an article from the American Psychological association, Drew Westen, Emory University psychology professor, stated, “When reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins.” Issacs pointed out that if we are relying on emotion to win a candidacy than we aren’t really looking for someone to be in politics. He shared, “We pick the people who excite us. These people can walk into a room, and whether negative or positive, can grab everyone’s attention. That isn’t a good politician. That is a good spokesman.” Relying on a persons charisma or character is only going to last so long. But understanding a person at a mere surface level isn’t the biggest problem with being involved in politics today.
What cripples us the most is our apathetic approach to action. The way that we take political action as American citizens is by exercising our right to vote. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), an independent youth research organization based at Tufts University, announced that 46 million young people ages 18-29 years old are eligible to vote, while 39 million seniors are eligible to vote. We can’t rely on the idea that one vote doesn’t really matter or make a difference. We are the majority. Our involvement does matter.
In November, 2014 a voting survey, conducted by the Current populations Supplement (CPS), showed that only 19.9 percent of 18- to 29-years old cast ballots in the 2014 elections. This was the lowest rate of youth turnout recorded in the CPS in the past forty years, and the decline since 2010 was not trivial. The proportion of young people who said that they were registered to vote (46.7%) was also the lowest over the past forty years.
What does that mean for the upcoming 2016 elections? Only time will tell. However, we as a campus as well as a rising generation can make a difference. It means that we are going to have to mentally eradicate the central myth that our involvement doesn’t matter. It is imperative that we take the time to seriously invest and consider the course of the nation today as well as for the future.