Political Apathy Among Young People Hurts the Progressive Cause

I was dissatisfied by what I considered to be a lack of progressive-minded students at Baruch College, a business school whose students often have a strong libertarian streak. Baruch has a politically conservative club, Young Americans for Liberty, as well as tons of business-related clubs. I could find none for progressive and left-wing politics.

I decided that the best option would be to take action myself and create a progressive club. I created and printed out a set of fliers and included my email address so potential members could contact me. I posted them and waited. After a day, I received a response, though it came in the form of vandalism. Some unknown and possibly offended people crossed out the word “progressive” and replaced it with the word “Marxist,” something I actually considered a compliment. Since that was the only attention I got from this plan, I deemed it a failure.

My next plan of action was to hand out the fliers during club hours. This, I thought at first, would be a big success. I handed out all 100 fliers in half an hour, and one of my professors was even willing to be the faculty leader of the club. However, I found this plan to be a failure as well; not one person emailed me back. I then concluded that Baruch has a serious problem with political apathy.

Out of all voting age demographics, young people (between the ages of 18 and 29) turn out to vote the least, according to according to The Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. Even in the highly popular 2008 election, only 51% of eligible voters between 18 and 29 years old voted, compared with 62% for those ages 30-44, 69% for those 45-64, and 70% for those 65 and older. In the 2010 midterm election, only 24% of young people voted, compared with 40.4% for those 30-44, 54.4% for those 45-64, and 60.8% for those 65 and older. Since young people tend to favor Democratic House candidates over Republican House candidates by a margin of 55%-42%, and have significantly favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates overall since 2004, the Republican takeover could have been somewhat suppressed if more young people came out to vote.

I wondered why this apathy would be so common among Baruch students, and to an extent, young people in general. I decided to ask a few people at random in between classes to find out. Ilyas, a sophomore, did not vote in the 2008 or the 2010 elections, and he only registered to vote about a week from the time I spoke to him, but he said that he had faith in democracy and that “the majority decision will be fine,” though he disagreed with what the majority opinion right now. Dan, a junior, voted in 2008 but not 2010. He is very active in politics, protesting a New York City visit by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He believed that voting does not do much, but it is something one should do. When asked about his faith in the American political system, he responded, “American government just pisses me off.” Other people said more or less the same thing; Ernest stated, “…we can say stuff, but it won’t necessarily happen,” and he described himself as “very pessimistic”. Despite this, he still voted in 2008 and 2010 and plans to vote in 2012. From these and other responses from my very small sample, I found that there seemed to be an inverse relation between political activeness and faith in the political system.

As seen from the 2010 midterm election, in which the more Republican-leaning older adults came out in droves than Democratic-leaning young people, voter apathy is a dangerous thing. Of course one person alone cannot do much to change the country; however, if masses of youth all move in that direction, great change could come to our country. It is essential for young people to educate themselves politically, to be politically active, and most importantly, to vote. The one thing that the CEO of Goldman Sachs and your average John Doe or Jane Roe have in common is that they all have one vote each. If we don’t vote, we will lose the chance to change the country. Because young people are markedly more likely to vote for Democrat than older adults and the electorate as a whole, if they voted in larger numbers than those 30 or older, they could set the course of the country toward a better direction. Let’s change our distrust of the system to a distrust of the voters and politicians who do not take what we want into consideration. As it was often said in the sixties, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

3 thoughts on “Political Apathy Among Young People Hurts the Progressive Cause”

  1. I agree with so much of what you say here, except one quote ( “The one thing that the CEO of Goldman Sachs and your average John Doe or Jane Roe have in common is that they all have one vote each…”) which may explain where voter apathy comes from.

    Personally, I think the CEO of Goldman Sachs only has one vote on paper, but the actual influence this person has on our government is much greater than I or any other typical voter can hope to have. And once you realize how little your one vote affects anything, where as a phone call by someone with money can change everything, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not caring and giving up.

    That being said, I completely agree with your point about voter apathy being dangerous and even more harmful to one’s interests.

    1. That statement was a reference to a quote by Michael Moore:

      “Citibank lamented that the non-rich might not have much economic power, but they do have equal voting power with the rich. One person, one vote. And that‘s what really scares them, that WE can still vote. In fact, we have 99% of the votes, and they only have 1%.”

  2. I think its unfair to claim students were suffering from political apathy because the only clubs were conservative or libertarian. I can see why you would be upset at the lack of diversity among student views. But this is not the same thing as political apathy. Regardless the vandalism and insults were unacceptable.

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