When we started this project, six long and challenging weeks ago, I was an outsider.
On a social level, I felt perched on the edge of an exclusive circle – a politics clique, which, just like any other, looked so intimidating from the outside. They were fluent in a language I had only just begun learning. In conversation, I was a wallflower, passive and self-deprecating about my own lack of political lingo.
Then I started listening and realised that anyone can drop a few names and sound savvy. The real test was whether they could keep their cool under pressure; offer their own opinions instead of regurgitating other people’s outspoken views. So I swallowed my pride, went back to square one and did my homework. I took the opportunity to stop blagging and start learning. It was way overdue, but I knew I wasn’t the only one.
In 2012, the annual Hansard Society survey on attitudes towards politics in Britain recorded that a record low of only 42% of the general public professed an ‘interest in politics.’
Within that 42%, broadsheet readers were found to be 6.5 times more likely to have an interest in politics – and tabloid readers 1.5 times – compared to individuals who did not read newspapers.
The statistics on our self-professed knowledge of politics echoed these findings.
Broadsheet readers were 7.3 times more likely to claim knowledge of politics – and tabloid readers 1.4 times more likely – than individuals who did not read newspapers at all.
On that note, you know who aren’t well known for reading newspapers? My generation.
Frankly, the odds are against us when it comes to taking an interest in even our own country’s politics. Every time there’s an election in this country, let alone on the world stage, there are dismal reports on voter apathy, and more often than not the younger generation accepts a large chunk of the responsibility.
Imagine then, the task that the Bournemouth University US 2012 team are up against, trying to engage people, not only in politics, but in the international story.
As somebody who once could not elaborate on the special relationship, explain the Electoral College or offer any insight on the key issues facing the next president, it was an intimidating challenge – but what an opportunity to rise to it.
Throughout the project, I’ve loved seeing young people like myself voluntarily engage with the entire US politics scene. We have 200 students involved – researching, interviewing, fact-checking pieces that once may have looked foreign to them. Even additional lectures and extra-curricular homework couldn’t deter the team.
At the start of this, I’d have wagered that for every one person on board that was already hooked on the thrill of the race for the White House, there was another waiting for the same spark to ignite. Their willingness to learn, to ask the questions you’d be too embarrassed to put to the political know-it-alls, is the only foreseeable solution to political apathy in my opinion.
Fundamentally, I don’t think it’s possible to be indifferent to politics, because everyone has an opinion about things that affect them. It’s being engaged that’s the real issue, so to see people taking it upon themselves to become just that speaks volumes.
Simply picking up a newspaper, that could be the start of it. With a wealth of information at our fingertips on the internet, it doesn’t have to take a project like this to kick-start someone else’s venture into politics.
It’s our choice, I think we forget that. It’s easier to be passive, blag our way through conversations, consider it out of our interest. But doing that is underselling yourself intellectually, and I for one am not going to be spoken over in conversation anymore.
So sorry, smug politicos, we’re crashing your clique, and you know what? We’re leaving the door open.