The Invisible Generation
I was disheartened to read an article this morning in my school's paper, The Daily Northwestern, about university students and staff who were voluntarily disenfranchising themselves by vowing not to vote in the November 4 election. The reasons were varied but fell into familiar patterns, with students complaining about complicated procedures, purporting that one vote "never" matters, and expressing anger over the political process.
However, out of all the emotions this article inspired -- anger, despair, embarrassment (this is my university these students are representing, after all) -- the one I felt most acutely was frustration. Young people have consistently been the worst no-shows of any age group on election day. In 2004, 53% of 18-24 year-olds did not vote. In comparison, 44% of 25-34 year-olds, 36% of 35-44 year-olds, 31% of 45-54 year-olds, 27% of 55-64 year-olds, and 27% of 65-74 year-olds did not vote in 2004.
What is so frustrating about all this is that it is the consistent failure of young people to come through in significant numbers at the polls that leads to many of the symptoms of political diseffectedness that non-voters profess; thus, what many non-voters view as a reaction to political malaise is actually the cause of it. For better or for worse, a candidate must garner enough votes to win an election. In this context, the reality is that politicians will oftentimes tailor parts of their platforms to attract voters from certain demographics. However, this typically only applies to demographics that regularly turn out to vote. Since young people have shown in elections past that they can't be relied on to vote, they regularly get left out of the political process and virtually ignored by politicians.
It is understandable that students might feel upset about this negligence, but it is counter intuitive for this to translate into a failure to vote. It seems so obvious, but the reality is that if you want anyone in government to care about what you have to say, you have to make your voice heard. It is in this context that young people can become an catalyst for change in the political process and that a multitude of young people, contributing just their "one vote," can become a force to be reckoned with.
My generation is in need of a major attitude adjustment when it comes to voting. If civic duty doesn't appeal to them, perhaps self-interest will. I only hope that young people see the bigger picture in this election and cast off the cloak of political invisibility that has shrouded us as a generation, once and for all.