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The Apathy of Generation X


For the past 25 years it has been wondered why the young
people of America have shared the same apathetic attitude
towards politics as the older generation of Americans.
Indeed, the issues concerning young voters are just as
important as those concerning older voters. Why the newest
voters choose to abstain their right has long been studied.
While it has been proven that the vote of young people can
make or a break an election, most candidates are reluctant
to relate themselves to young people. When that Tuesday in
November comes, young people choose not be heard, assuring
themselves future neglect by the part of elected officials.
There are reasons that young people do not vote, or get
involved in political actions. They range from apathy to
just plain not having enough time. One of the larger
reasons is that most candidates are much older then those
18-25. This would put the generation gap in between
candidates and the youthful voters. A 19 year old Trinity
College student remarks about Bob Dole, I think he is
making himself look older by speaking about certain issues
we (young people) can not relate to. When asked to give an
example the student stated, "he made a reference to World
War I, I thought he was going to say he fought in that one
too!" (www.mtv.com/chooseorlose). While Bob Dole is a
isolated instance, many youthful voters feel that there is
a ever growing distance between them and the older
generations. Another reason that young people are turning
away is lack of education towards politics. While this
could be said for any age group, it seems to be more
prevalent in younger people. The lifestyle of younger
people does not allow for a everyday exposure to politics
as those of a older generation. Thomas Banks, a 19 year old
student, when asked why he was not watching the 1992
Presidential Debates responded, "I guess because I don't
really see what's going on at college. I feel pretty
isolated. It doesn't seem as important to me as studying. I
guess". Although not in a career yet, the life of a student
is proving to be just as busy as those in the older
generations. People in the full time labor are not the only
ones who can use a hassle-full life as an excuse not to get
involved. There is another major reason that young people
feel isolated and set apart from the political world. For
those who take the time to educate themselves, and to
participate in what activities they can; they soon find
that the major candidates have paid little, if any
attention to the issues that effect young people the most.
Chris Weinkopf, associate editor of National Review, when
speaking about how Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are talking to
young voters said, "I think both of them are really just
paying lip service to young people in the way they address
issues" (www.mtv.com/issues.html).
When young voters make themselves heard in an election,
they can turn the outcome like no other age group can. Even
with minimal turn-out on the part of 18-25 year olds.
Elections have been won or lost because of who young people
do or do not support. In 1992, 50% of registered voters
under the age of 30 turned out to vote. In that election,
Bill Clinton received 50% of the under 30 vote (Bush
received 30%, Perot 20%). Clintons 20% margin of victory in
the young people vote was his largest in any age group and
may have very well put him in the White House. Since John
Andersons independent run at the White House in 1980, young
people have been the strongest supporters for those outside
the two party system. Now in 1996, even though Ross Perot
has a dismal 5% overall, his support amongst the younger
voters is in the double digits.
There are many things that will make young people get
involved. The biggest thing that gets the attention of
youthful voters is the same thing that gets the attention
of older voters, money. When the financial status of a
young person is threatened, they are more likely to get
involved in political activities. Issues such as student
loans, tax cuts, minimum wage and Pell Grant minimums are
issues that turn the heads of younger voters. Other issues
that effect young people and make them get involved include
birth control, use of tobacco products and A.I.D.S.
research to name a few more. In 1991, Montanas state
Legislature enacted a unique referendum. It allowed the
states high school students to determine whether or not
tobacco products should be sold to young people. In the
turnout, a whopping 51,233 students (76% of those
enrolled), turned out to be heard.
Therefore there is no doubt that given the opportunity to
have them selves heard will help get young people to the
voting both. However, that opportunity is rarely there for
those among younger voters. While his opponent hardly ever
spoke about his views concerning those younger Americans,
Bill Clinton was making speeches at colleges and attacking
Bob Doles ideas on Pell Grants and student loans
(www.mtv.com/chooseorloose). Thus the Presidents support
amongst young people was a significant percentage higher
then Doles. With very little extra work Clinton had given
young people the attention they craved. Therefore when
Election Day rolled around Clinton again had his young
support. When asked why he voted for Clinton, student Mark
Whitmore replied Clinton is the only one who would even
give us the time of day. He only gave us a little, but it
was better then the nothing Bob Dole gave us." Therefore
only showing meager support for the causes of the younger
generation of voters Clinton was able to win the support of
a strong demographic group, even over rival Ross Perot.
Now the question will be asked that if only menial support
needs to be showed to young people to get them out to the
voting booths, is that that all they will ever be showed by
the candidates? When asked about this new question student,
and mother of one child Rebecca Smitten said "its kind of a
double-edged sword. I dont want to show support for someone
whose has mentioned little about my issues, but I dont want
to not show any support at all either". However, there is
hope that this trend will soon take a up-swing in favor of
the young voters. While during the 96 election young voters
had scant attention paid to them, that the elections to
come in the future will have more for young people to work
with. The fact that young people are showing up to the
polls and making a difference in the out-come of races is
giving them leverage for the future. Future candidates will
appeal to new voters in more then one way however. For one
example, candidates in the future will be closer to the age
of young people. As young people grow out and into jobs
they will have more financial status to be threatened.
Lastly, with the new found power, young people may be able
to demand attention. However, the generations before these
voters also had all these advantages and yet they still
became the tame, over-apathetic voters of today. So what is
working for todays young people that was not for the
generations before? One difference is the new found power
of interest groups. Interest groups that have strong youth
support include the Sierra Club, and S.A.D.D. While these
groups may not have the budgets of others such as the
N.R.A.; they do have the young vote and a appeal to young
people who are someday going to grow into the work-force.
This leaves more potential then ever before for young
people to make a permanent mark in the political world and
possibly pave the way for future young voters to have their
issues heard as well.
These are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the future
of young voters. As far as election and political
activities to come, no one knows. There is more optimism
then ever before, but will it be enough to turn the heads
of candidates? There is at least a chance in that young
people will make a difference in the mere fact that they
have the numbers to do so. When and if all these numbers of
young voters and activists turn out has been seen and
hopefully will continue to do so. Then maybe the apathetic
letter "X" that labels them can be forever removed. enjoy! 


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