Why Young People Don’t Vote, Part 2

March 13, 2008

Though David Eaves makes some interesting assertions on the subject of voter apathy these days, it’s unclear whether it is entirely because of a lack of availability of polling booths. It’s true: church basements, community centres and school gyms aren’t usually on the radars of 18-34 year-olds. If, as Mr. Eaves proposes, we had stations in the lobbies of office towers, at subway entrances and at coffeeshops, perhaps busy people would take three minutes between meetings to cast a ballot.

Perhaps not. The lack of engagement among young people is not necessarily connected to voting access. At universities, they make it easy to vote: you can vote in the caf, you can vote outside lectures, you can vote online. But student council turnouts are rarely over the 15% threshold.

The problem has more to do with the way politicians deal with issues. As Chantal Hébert has said, apathy can’t be solved by simply telling young people to go out and vote. We’ll vote when we feel it matters; when we feel that we’re part of the system and that we have an interest in changing it. Why vote when, no matter the outcome, we’ll still hear the same processed speeches and plastic ideas?

The Obama phenomenon catching on in the US is a hint for any politician north of the border who feels concerned about voter apathy. Not only are his speeches natural-sounding (he doesn’t use a teleprompter: there’s an idea!) and emotionally charged with biblical resonance, but every bloody one of them is available on youtube. They even made a song out of one of them (which has been viewed over six million times).

“Yes We Can” as performed by Barack Obama and rich Hollywood people

When young people everywhere are engaged from so many directions – paying off student loans, downloading music, starting businesses, etc. – why should going out to vote, which will have almost no impact on any of these concerns, cross their minds? Yes, we need to excercise our democratic rights. Yes, we need to be more civic minded. But the reason older people vote more is because it costs them: they’re the ones paying taxes, so it’s no wonder they’re concerned about where their tax dollars end up being spent.

For the younger generation yet to discover the pleasure of taxes, politics needs to be about ideas – but ideas that can engage us. We need to feel like we’re participating in something, that we’re engaged. We can’t continue to vote because it’s a duty. We must vote because we want to.

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