All through the 1960s, young people in the United States participated actively in a range of political issues, from pushing civil rights to protesting the Vietnam War. They were especially disturbed by the fact that young men were barred from voting but were being drafted to serve in the military and were dying for their country. In response to these concerns, the Twenty Sixth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1971, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Now, more than 40 years later, we can consider the available research and see what happened. Frankly, what is remarkable is what did not happen. First, young voters have not united in any particular political sentiment. We can see in the way the young vote the same divisions in race, ethnicity, and gender that are apparent among older age groups. Second, while the momentum for lowering the voting age came from college campuses, the majority of young voters are not students. Third, and particularly troubling, is their relatively low turnout. The 2012 presidential election, held against the background of President Obama’s reelection bid and continuing global economic decline, did not pique the interest of voters ages 18 to 24. Only 41.2% of them voted, compared to 71.9% of those age 65 and older. What lies behind voter apathy among the young? The popular explanation is that people – especially young people – are alienated from the political system, turned off by the shallowness and negativity of candidates and campaigns. However, young people do vote as they age. Other explanations for the lower turnout among the young seem more plausible. First, the United States is virtually alone in requiring citizens to vote twice, in effect. They must first register to vote, often a time when issues are not on the front burner and candidates haven’t even declared. Second, though citizens in the United States tend to be more active in politics at the community level than those in other countries, young people often feel unmoved by local issues such as public school financing. Additionally, trends in voter turn out for local and/or state elections can be even lower when compared to national trends for presidential elections. Take the recent mayoral election in Atlanta. Many have speculated voter turnout to be around 20% in Fulton County. Further stratified by demographics like race, ethnicity, and age and the percentages are even lower for minorities and young people. Conversely, the midterm elections witnessed a surge in voter turnout that had not been seen in decades. According to Politically Georgia, about 57% of registered voters cast ballots in the midterm election. That equates to 3.9 million out of 6.7 million registered voters voted in Tuesday election (per the secretary of state records). Let’s discuss. 1. How often do you vote? Explain your position for voting (i.e. do you feel a responsibility to vote or do you believe in the impact that voting has on your community). 2. If you do not vote, what accounts for your apathy? Are you too busy to register? Are community issues uninteresting to you? 3. Do you think voter apathy is a serious social problem? Explain why you agree or disagree. 4. What might be done to increase voter participation in your age group and community?
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