Political disengagement or social irresponsibility? Why Millennials don’t vote

Only 13 percent of voters under age 30 cast ballots in the November election – and that’s down from 19 percent in 2012.

National news outlets, campaigns and political party heads are all asking the same question: Why are Millennials so disengaged from the nation’s political system?

Student Government President and sophomore biology major Michael Pheasant suspects that college students don’t often think about heavy social issues.

“I think a lot of people get in their own little niche, their own little world, and forget to look at the big picture and what’s going on. I mean, it comes back to the three big questions: Why are we here? What are we doing? What is our final destination? People don’t think about these things too often, and they like to get caught in their day by day, especially nowadays. You see a lot of our peers just forget to look outside of themselves and look at the big picture, you know, at their role in society and at their place in the world,” Pheasant said.

According to the Campus Vote Project, a campaign developed in 2012 to help college students work with election officials to make voting easier, well over a quarter of college students reported in 2010 that they did not register to vote because they did not know where or how to register or they missed the deadline. Even with efforts such as the Campus Vote Project and Rock the Vote, the largest non-profit, non-partisan organization intent on creating a voting culture among young people, students are still not making it to the polls, which assistant history and government professor Dr. Christopher Stevens attributes to a lack of personal investment in the political system.

“I mean, older people vote because they have property, they have kids, so they’re not necessarily any more informed, but they’ll get out and vote because they have something to protect, retirement accounts, their jobs, their homes, the schools for their kids, and when you have that stake in the system, you’re more likely to go out and vote. Again, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any more informed than the younger person, because if you look at statistics, younger people are just more educated than older generations just by virtue of everyone going to college now,” Stevens said.

Stevens added, however, that the nature of politics, questionable campaign strategies, and the depth of bitter partisan divisions turn young people off.

“[The] performance in Washington, D.C. in particular looks nasty, very partisan, mean-spirited. That’s going to increase the chances that people are not going to take time out of their busy lives to inform themselves about specific candidates and specific issues. It’s more likely that they’re going to do something else than go vote on Tuesday. So if you start out not having a high investment in the system and you see what’s going on, how politics are actually being conducted, you’re more likely to defect and do something else,” he said.

Pheasant said young people should make good on their responsibilities as citizens whether or not the tasks associated with citizenship are unpleasant.  “I believe, as a generation, we should really challenge ourselves, take a look at ourselves and say, ‘Are we informed? Do you know what’s going on? And are we exercising our rights and roles in society?’ We have to be socially responsible in this country. I totally believe that.”

But Stevens  said barriers to voting, such as not having a driver’s license, which is required to register, may keep some young people away.  He said others may not  identify with a political party or candidate, and that can discourage voting.

“There’s more reason to believe that younger generations are less likely to identify with a political party. Thus, when you see your choices between a Democrat or a Republican, you know, your willingness to go the extra step to vote with your busy lives is severely reduced, because neither one of the candidates, arguably, address your interests, and the lack of a third party, or fourth, or fifth, you know, means that lots of kids feel disenfranchised, if you will, that no one represents them,” Stevens said.

But Pheasant believes that Misericordia students, in particular, should lead by becoming educated about political issues and candidates because public officials make policy, which impacts real people, many of whom are in great need.  He sees voting as service.

“You have to go back and think about the Catholic Teachings with social responsibility. While we’re here, we have to follow those works of mercy, you know, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting prisons, caring for the sick. All of those things are important, along with the spiritual works of mercy. We’ve so gotten away from the basics, and I think this social responsibility in terms of Misericordia and what we’re supposed to do, is to follow those guidelines.”

And to those who are disinterested because they feel their vote won’t matter, Pheasant said every voice – and every vote – counts.

“It’s just the little things. If everyone does the little things, and takes care of the little things, and covers their little fraction of the world, society and the world would be a better place,”  he said.


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