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Youth Involvement In Politics Essay

What options do young people have for enacting social and political change? Can traditional politics redeem itself in the eyes of youth? Can political leaders hear young people? Do they listen? What alternative avenues for politics might young people pursue or propose? What are their respective prospects and challenges? These are some key questions that arise when reading Young Citizens and Political Participation in a Digital Society, by Philippa Collin, Running from Office, by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, and Youth and Generation by Dan Woodman and Johanna Wyn. In this review essay, these books are critically analysed alongside existing relevant literature to explore the ways young people today engage with politics and political participation, including how this reflects commonalities but also differences with previous social generations. Such work lends itself to an argument for reflecting on the state of democracy and young people’s actual and perceived roles as citizens.

PAULA S DAUGHERTY
URBANDALE, IA
High school student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Media outreach to young people, increasing political education, furthering contact between candidates and young people, parents' influence on kid's voting

JENNIFER JUSTICE
ROBINS, IA
College student
Born: 1977
Essay themes: Education, Internet voting

JASMINE R MOELLER
STRAWBERRY POINT, IA
High school student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Early education about politics, increasing political participation of young people

SETH SHANNON
MONROE, IA
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Politicians should do a better job of reaching out to the public with information regarding their campaigns, more information regarding politics in general should be made available, reforms will most likely not work

MARK TURNER
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA
College student
Born: 1979
Essay themes: Voting should be more available, provide more opportunities for youth to get in involved in politics, dedicating a day to voting may increase awareness

PAULA S DAUGHERTY
URBANDALE, IA
High school student
Born: 1981

Essay themes: Media outreach to young people, increasing political education, furthering contact between candidates and young people, parents' influence on kid's voting

When asked what innovative reforms or electoral rules that I believe would make young people vote, I was speechless. How can America get teenagers like me to get off the couch and go and make a difference? Think about it. After I did, I came up with numerous ideas.

The main problem is that political candidates and parties don't know how to reach young people's level. Critical advertisements, programs on CNN, and debates aren't going to do it. I know few teenagers that watch CNN, that keep the TV channel on an annoying advertisement, or spend a Saturday at a debate. If the candidates and political parties really want to reach the youth of America, they have to be the youth of America. Put themselves in our shoes, starting with publicity. There are so many actions that can be taken with publicity. Beginning with magazines and TV shows. Instead of putting articles just in the newspaper about all the candidates and where they stand on the issues, put them in teen magazines too. Magazines like: "YM", "Teen", or "Seventeen". When a teen is flipping through the pages they are sure to glance if not gain a full interest. More teens will read a magazine than the newspaper. Also, those magazines are filled with quizzes. Why not make a " Are you a Republican or a Democrat" quiz for teens to take? That would be a fun way to reach youth, and help them gain knowledge on where they stand, and what candidates stand with them. Many youth use political affiliation as an accuse not to vote. Saying that they can't vote because they don't even know what political party they belong to. This quiz would inform them with that answer. TV shows on frequently watched channels like MTV and VH1 could create programs on voting to help youth feel the importance of being involved also. Specials like "Choose or Lose", and "Rock the Vote" on MTV have helped influence many voters. Television and newspaper could also focus more interview attention on young people. Ask them how they feel and if they plan to participate in the election. If an eighteen-year-old knows that the media cares and wants them to vote, then they will vote. Youth like to be interviewed and seen in TV, or quoted in the newspaper.

Second, government and voting education needs to increase. Teachers in government classes should require the students to take part in campaigns, debates, and caucuses. Or, they can attend courtor senate meetings during the off election years. Educate each student on the candidate, and the issues. Then, youth can't complain that they don't know the facts enough to vote and say anything. Better educational materials should be distributed to schools too. For instance, a realistic video to demonstrate what voting will be like. This would be a true visual on the voting and caucus processes. Or, a pamphlet or packet that reads important, key information. These would all prepare youth better. Another great innovative reform for the teen that doesn't feel educated enough on the candidates or feels intimidated by the voting process, would be voting on-line. Then, the voting would be done in the comfort of you own home, with no intimidations surrounding you. This would definitely increase the number of young voters.

Another reform in the political process is that the candidates need to relate genuinely with the youth. They should come visit high schools, see where the education is taking place first hand, and meet with the students. Candidates should go everywhere they feel young people would be. Then, and only then, are they truly relating to the youth of America. The candidates need to show young people that we too can have an impact on voting, and that our issues matter. They should speak more on young issues like University awareness, money for high schools and colleges, financial aid, and abortion. They need to stop focusing all their attention on issues like social security. That's when we feel like our issues don't count, and we lose faith in the candidates and our government.

Most importantly, parents and community members need to have a positive impact on the youth of tomorrow too. Parents should speak to their teens about the voting process and why it's important to vote. Also, accompany them to caucuses and elections. That way they have someone step by step how it's all done. Community members should encourage young people too. When they see youth voting, they should give them a pat on the back, let them know you're happy they are voting. Elect young delegates to the county conventions and on other committees. Trust that young people can lead your county and state. After all, we all have to start somewhere.

We all have such an amazing opportunity. As we head into the twenty-first century we also head into the 2000 elections for presidency. We youth have the chance to elect the man who will lead us into the millennium. Personally I have had an amazing political experience so far. I took part in the Iowa Caucuses, and I was elected as an alternate delegate to take part in the Polk County Convention. I loved the caucuses, and I loved the happy faces on all the community members' faces when many seniors came to vote. It was a memorable event. I truly think that if more students were educated like I have been and actions listed above were taken, we could definitely make a difference, and increase voting with the youth of America.


JENNIFER JUSTICE
ROBINS, IA
College student
Born: 1977
Essay themes: Education, internet voting

Keeping America's youth interested in politics has never been so difficult. The frustration with politics that their parents have experienced has trickled down to the younger generation. This frustration, reflected in low voter turnout, is being taught to the next generation and the trend is only getting worse. But there are ways to slow and even reverse this political dropout. While frustration with the current system and candidates is a contributing factor, the largest problem for young people is disinterest and the time that is required for politics. Most of today's youth do not see the relevance that politics has in their life. This is a large part of the problem.

More emphasis on politics and the political system should be placed during middle and high school years to increase familiarity and interest. Starting with middle school, teenagers should be exposed to candidate debates and information during elections. Broadcasting the debates during school and discussing the views of each candidate during history or government class would be a first step towards helping teenagers become involved in the political process. Talking about politics would make it seem more real and important. Candidates visiting schools would provide a more personal interaction, making them seem less distant and enigmatic. Another way to familiarize teenagers with the voting process would be to hold mock caucuses in school. The procedure of a caucus is confusing for many people, especially for the first-time participant. Going through the procedures of a caucus would help teenagers to feel less intimidated by it and they would be more willing to participate.

Part of the problem with getting teenagers to vote is the time involved. Almost everything today is geared towards the fast paced life many people lead. People want to have things as quickly as possible and not have to spend much time on any one thing. The process of voting can take quite a while, and many people find this a disadvantage to voting. There are several possible solutions to alleviate this problem that would appeal to voters of any age, especially younger voters. The Internet has become an integral part of most teenagers lives. Many of them spend several hours a day on the Internet, from searching for information to talking with others through chat rooms. This would be an easy way to get teenagers more involved in voting, by allowing them to vote over the Internet. It is such an integral part of their lives that it would be easy to encourage teenagers to use the Internet as a means of voting. Instantaneous voting, that allows them to participate without stepping outside their own homes, would make the voting process easier and quicker than the traditional ballot box. The Internet ballot should also include a summary of the issue and, if applicable, each candidate's views to assist in an informed vote.

Another time-saving method that would encourage teenagers to vote would be allowing them to register for absentee ballots that are automatically sent for each issue brought to ballot. This would especially appeal to older teenagers and college students, since many lead busy lives and do not have the time to go to a voting location for various reasons. Requesting an absentee ballot requires thinking ahead enough to obtain the request, send it in, and receive the ballot. Many people do not want to take the time to do this. If they were able to receive these automatically, it would make it significantly easier and encourage them to vote. Registration for voting could also be made easier. Offering teenagers the ability to register to vote when they obtain their driver's license would encourage them to do so. It would make it easier and quicker, which is important. Since many teenagers get their driver's license when they turn eighteen, it would be a good way to offer voter registration to them. No forms would have to first be requested and the idea of registering would be brought to their attention. It would take only a few extra minutes, but would prompt more teenagers to register to vote.

For those who wish to use the traditional ballot box method, there are ways to make it easier for those voters as well. Time is still a factor in voting by this method. While making voting day a holiday would not be necessary, allowing some time off would be helpful and encourage people to vote. Many people try to vote over their lunchtime, come in later to work, or leave early, resulting in a sudden influx of voters at the polls. Allowing an hour off for voting any time during the day would create shorter lines at the polls, since the number of voters at any given time would be more even. Employees would be encouraged to vote by being allowed time off to vote, without having to work around their job. This would eliminate a disadvantage of voting, namely, forcing an employee to make up time at work in order to vote. It would also serve as a reminder for employees to vote. This same policy of allowing time off from work should also be applied to teenagers and college students as well. Voting time should be allowed at school to encourage teenagers to vote. Special ballots could be set up at each school in order to make it convenient for students and teachers. Helping teenagers to see the importance of participating in politics is a difficult and necessary undertaking. There are many ways to do this and setting up a pattern of voting early on will create a life-long habit.

JASMINE R MOELLER
STRAWBERRY POINT, IA
High school student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Early education about politics, increasing political participation of young people

The United States was built on democracy. Our forefathers entrusted this great country to future generations of Americans. Democracy in the United States cannot survive without the participation of the citizen. This government is a government by the people for the people. Therefore it is essential for my generation to be politically active and care about the government. As society changes, the American political process must change to preserve democracy. Many young people today feel detached from the political process. Surprising amounts of young people don't know the first thing about the government or politics. For years they have been told they are too young to be concerned about it. Then abruptly, they turn 18 and are expected to suddenly become interested and active in something they have ignored for the previous 17 years of their lives. We must not allow this to continue. This mindset can be changed. Improvements can be made. It can become common, for example, for 8 year-olds to keep up with the Senate or local government. In order to change the current flow of interest away from politics, several things can be done. The schools, the media, families, political parties, and communities will all have to make this happen in order for it to be successful.

The schools can take an active role in encouraging participation in politics. Teachers can begin to teach children about the mechanics of government at earlier ages. Much of what is now taught in high school government classes could be easily simplified so it could be taught to younger children. If children are able to understand the political process, they will be better prepared to participate in the future. Informing them early on will help erase the foreignness of voting, attending caucuses, and holding an office. As a result, children may be eager to begin to be involved. The educator must play a vital role if we hope to spur more interest in politics. The media has a great deal of influence in the live of young Americans. If political involvement was promoted like sports drinks, sneakers, and clothing, it would become popular. It is rare to see a character on a television show geared toward youth that cares about the government. The information that young people receive about the government is often negative. The news media often focuses on scandals and mud throwing. This usually turns young people away rather than inspiring them to get involved to change things that need to be improved. Parents and other family members sometimes add to a young person's negative view of the system. When they see Uncle Bob and Dad arguing about the Grand Old Party, young people often decide that they want no part in politics if that is all there is to it. Families should try to give children a better picture by pointing out the good as well as the bad. Teaching them why this process is necessary will allow them to make more accurate judgments. Parents can be good examples by taking their children with them when they vote or attend a political meeting. As a result, it will be easier for the child to do these things when they are old enough to begin to participate.

Political parties would do themselves a great favor if they reached out to citizens of a younger age. Often when an 18 year-old is considering whether or not to join a party, they are hesitant because they don't know enough about the parties to make a decision. Previous to this, persons running for office have ignored them. Most candidates don't view my generation as worth their time until we are near voting age. Campaigns seldom consider the future generations of voters. If political parties took the time and spent the extra funds to urge them to participate later on, both the parties and young people would benefit.

Many small communities have trouble filling all the positions in their local governments. If 16 and 17 year-olds were allowed to hold positions that are not critical, they would be experienced and knowledgeable when they are able to hold more vital positions. Perhaps some critics would be concerned that youths are not capable of holding office. However, many young people are more educated, sharp, and dedicated than some adults are. Eventually, high school students may consider holding a community political position as much of an honor as being captain of the football team or the lead in a school musical. From their community government beginnings, young people will be able to move on to county, state, and national government through the years. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the United States can change the course of its history. We have accomplished many great feats that, in comparison, make this seem simple.

This nation can become a place where young people are eager to participate in caucuses, vote, and hold an office. With the help of the schools, the media, families, political parties, and communities, this tide of disinterest can be turned. We can begin now. How much longer can we wait without putting our country in jeopardy?


SETH SHANNON
MONROE, IA
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Politicians should do a better job of reaching out to the public with information regarding their campaigns, more information regarding politics in general should be made available, reforms will most likely not work

Every year, the citizens of the U.S. are participating less and less in the political process that runs this nation. The pride in electing officers for this country has lost its importance and isn't perceived as a reasonable concern for most people. Why is this attitude held by so many? What happened to the times where certain race and gender groups would rally and protest because they didn't have the right to cast votes for official political races? Where has that pride gone? To perceive this problem correctly, one must understand that there is two ways we can attack this undesirable condition. We can see the condition in a theoretical sense, and we can see the condition in a realistic sense. A divided approach to the situation will categorize and clarify what we can do, how we can achieve it, and how past attempts and/or perceptions have been unsuccessful. To narrow the attack even more, we can apply how young adults might react to these new situations. Theoretically, the nation has lost interest in politics. People don't pay attention to candidates and campaigns because they don't care. They have better things to do then to pay attention to propaganda, or to take time to drive to the polling stations for an hour or so because their 'vote won't matter because there are so many votes anyway'. 'Politicians are all the same; corrupt and twisted. It won't matter what I vote'. 'I don't care who wins; it's not going to affect me'. I've heard these excuses multiple times, and I don't remember exactly who said them. But you know that you have heard these statements before yourself! YOU might have said them! This kind of apathy is present in this world because it CAN be present. No one is extremely concerned about people not being concerned because they also don't think that it matters. People who are active in politics, local or national, are the people who would vote no matter what the situation because they like to be a part of this 'democratic' government. But do you actually think that everyone who isn't active with politics isn't interested in what happens in politics? Realistically, no. Of course people are interested. They don't want to pay attention to campaigns because it really does take a lot of time and energy. But when new taxes or reforms pop up out of nowhere and they say, "What the heck is this? Why is this happening? Why am I paying this tax?". They care in the end when the ideas and platform for this elected official becomes reality and they are feeling the after-effects socially and/or economically. By this time, it is too late to rightfully complain (even though people do anyway) or to actively influence these effects individually (by voting or by joining a local political campaign) because the opportunity has passed and gone. The only thing to do then is to respectfully conform to these new measures or to whine about how the government is corrupt and bad and selfish. Theoretically, more opportunities to vote or to participate otherwise can be made to boost the voter turnout. We can lower the voting age, install election-day voter registration, create Internet voting, etc. More opportunity for people, especially young adults, to participate will increase turnout, right? Realistically, no it won't. Adding a different, new opportunity for young people to vote won't give them new, unbridled desire to go vote. If I were apathetic towards American politics, I wouldn't care if I could register today, tomorrow, the next day, or even Election Day. I wouldn't care if the voting age were lowered because I just wouldn't care to vote anyway. Realistically, how can this be fixed? How can inspiration be generated instead of only having opportunities generated? If people are realistically concerned about what happens to themselves and their community, they'll vote. If people know how important it is for them to be involved, they'll vote. If people understand what candidates stand for and understand what these candidates will do if elected, they'll vote. But they just don't understand! My simple (and perceivably effective) proposal is to increase the communication between the politicians and the citizens. The citizens aren't going to ask for the information; they will have to be provided it. This will demand for less biased propaganda and more factual information so people will decide on what they want instead of what the politicians want them to think. This could consist of more debates on TV, more outlining of platforms in the newspapers, and less negative campaigning between candidates (which usually is biased and distorted). More multi-media information could be distributed at the convenience of the people, such as distributing campaign pamphlets to easily accessible areas (for me, right beside the campus newspaper shelves that are present in every university building). This would make the information readily available and provide a less imposing opportunity for the student. For example, a political commercial on TV during an enjoyable program is more discouraging to people then might be a pamphlet that is available, but not required, to read at convenient locations. Other types of media could be used with similar techniques, but the point is MORE OPPORTUNITY FOR INITIATIVE, NOT MORE OPPORTUNITY FOR PARTICIPATION. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink".


MARK TURNER
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA
College student
Born: 1979

Essay themes: Voting should be more available, provide more opportunities for youth to get in involved in politics, dedicating a day to voting may increase awareness
Plummeting and dissipating votes from the youth are occurring, but that does not necessarily mean it can not be stopped. Newton's Law of Gravity explicitly says it all, "Once an object is in motion, it will stay in motion until acted on by an outside force." I say that we take a little piece of this advice and swing it our way, and let the downfall in voting relinquish itself, and it will do that by "an outside force." This force, or reform, can consist of many things. The achievement of all of them, is to find an optimal voting percentage from the youth. I, being a college junior, understand first-hand why many youngsters are not voting, and I hope my reform proposals shed new light on the subject matter.

My first proposal: Make it more available. Voting is something that teens/youths do not dislike, it's something that's not readily available. These ages in a person's life are very busy, teenagers are faced with many hurdles--social life, family life, sports, clubs, etc. The day is short, and the day does not consist of going to the voting booth. If it's not already leaded into their daily time card, chances are low they'll do it on a certain day. I think the proposal should be to have voting in places that target teenagers: plant booths in the mall, public schools, arcade stores, etc. Let them run into themselves, bring the booths to the teenagers. Second Proposal: I think the youth of America are strong-minded in their own sense.

More individuals today are expressing their creativity more freely than ever before. But one thing everybody likes is to chat about are politics. Whether or not they like it, they are going to know who the next president is. Don't let this subject bore them, put some energy into it. My proposal is to "energize" the voting. Make teenagers think it's cool to speak their mind with politics, don't it deter them from voting. Let younger people work the voting booths, have them be enticed to walk into a booth. Find a few people from the high school that are popular and energetic, and pay them to sit at the booth and bring people in. Once the people are lured, they'll walk in the booth, vote for whom they think is best qualified, and leave feeling good about it. Energy and pep is what people like, when was the last time you saw a young person sitting at a booth? 99.9% of the time, I talk with elders and retired folks who have trouble understanding my questions--we can do without that.

My final proposal: Let voting day be an inservice day. Not only is the day open to vote, but the students are going to know why the day is inservice. "Oh, it's voting day." If the parents know that the day is dedicated to casting their vote, they too will push their children to the booths to convey a vote. This also is a derivative of the time proposal-- a little more time to do so will raise the youth voting percentage.

I believe that my three proposals, if in affect, will turn the plummeting youth voting percentage. Not only that, but I'm sure a sharp and surprise increase will be clearly evident. These are the times to take these ideas into consideration, without prejudice or stereotypes. Let the youth tell you what we want, and grant their proposals a trial basis. I guarantee you will see a change, and the outside force will continue to push.