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
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 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!