Editorial: Engaging America’s Youth

According to the US Census, there are nearly 50 million young people in America aged between 18 and 29 years old. This year, America’s young population represent 24% of the voting age population.

By 2020, they will represent 36% (Rock the Vote, 2011). Unfortunately, surveys conducted appear to suggest this generation remain disinterested in election news.

If this generation become disinterested in the political happenings of their country, what hope is there for the next generation? It’s a worrying trend for accountability and scrutiny of the government.

A group of people surveyed over the course of January showed only 20% of 18-29 year olds followed election news very closely. This marked an 11% drop compared with January 2008’s findings (Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index).

Despite high numbers of young people using social media, watching viral videos and creating politically inspired memes, the same research found they are learning less about campaigns from the Internet than four years ago.

A mere 29% of young people are using the Internet to learn about the candidates, a 13% decrease from the 2008 election. It’s all well and good to be able to communicate with somebody else on the other side of the country – or world for that matter – but unless what you’re communicating is of a political value and not a video of a cat – this opportunity is lost.

It’s hardly a surprise to learn young people aren’t using other mediums to make up for their lack of campaign knowledge either. Only 11% of young people use daily newspapers.

One of the underlying problems appears to be making political news engaging and entertaining. On average, 13% admitted to enjoying the political coverage they consumed.

Despite this sign of apathy, voter turnout among young people over the past couple of presidential elections has actually risen. Youth turnout rose by two percentage points to 51% in 2008 from the 2004 election.

But whilst this age group’s turnout increased, the turnout for the overall population decreased (Civic Youth, 2012).

But what actually gets young people out to vote? Well, contact, registration, being informed and each state’s laws are all considered factors. Education is key.

If people don’t know enough about a subject, they’ll steer clear of it. The danger is people steering clear of a subject that affects their everyday lives.

By educational level, 62.1% of young people with some college experience voted in 2008, compared with 35.9% of those who had no college experience.

One of the challenges is to get young voters to actually register. In 2008, 84% of young voters who registered to vote cast a ballot. To solve this dilemma, a variety of different voting measures could be offered to the American public.

In 2008, seven of the top 10 states for youth turnout had measures such as Election Day registration and voting by mail. At least 59% of young Americans whose home state offered Election Day registration voted, nine percentage points higher than those who did not.

If there is an issue to engage American voters with US politics, how can we expect to engage British voters with what’s happening across the pond?

The US could be described as one of the world’s major players, economically, militarily and culturally. America is the world’s sleeping policeman. They’re also one of the UK’s closest allies – the special relationship anyone?

We have tried to produce our coverage in a way that will allow young people to engage with US politics. It’s been an overwhelming feeling so far to see the number of people who have joined our Facebook group, wanting to get involved in some way, whether as a runner or a presenter.

This reaction has completely gone against my original train of thought. Whilst I expected a few people to be interested in covering this election, I never expected the numbers we’ve had turn up and contribute.

If this sort of reaction can exist here in a town in Dorset, then why can’t this happen in America?

Recently, I spoke to an American friend of mine – a student at the University of Maryland – telling him about the coverage we were planning. He replied, “You’re going to be so much more knowledgeable than me.”

There lies the conundrum. The only people in the know about their backyard politics are those who already have a fervent interest in it.

It’s up to us and other media outlets to make politics engaging again for those who feel they don’t have a voice.


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