By JANELLE L. PLUMMER
WASHINGTON—For some young people, being a part of the political process is no big deal. Apathy, structural reasons and civility among candidates all play an important role as to why young people choose not to vote. However, analysts say that foreign policy issues affecting our society could draw many young people to the polls for the 2008 presidential election.
Phillip James, 22, a sophomore majoring in social work at Bowie State University in Maryland, said he does not vote.
“It’s laziness for the most part,” James said.
Even though James did not vote in the 2004 presidential election or the 2006 mid-term election for the U.S. Congress, he said he is willing to get involved and get his voice heard in the upcoming election.
“The war in Iraq was an encouragement for me to get involved in politics,” James said.
Teaira Brewer, 20, a former Bowie State University student, said that she has never voted in a presidential election, only in local state and school elections. However, she said that she is looking forward to voting in the upcoming presidential election next year.
“A female candidate is running and a black male,” she said, “[…] it’s going to encourage more young people to vote.”
Dr. William Shendow, a political science professor and director of the John O. Marsh Institute for Government and Public Policy at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., said that many young people are focused on college and their career and that’s why they choose not to vote.
But the war in Iraq could shift their focus, Shendow said.
“I am an optimist,” he said. “The war has mobilized a lot of young people and that can bring [them] to the polls. There are a lot of issues that are impacting young people [such as] gay rights and stem cell research.”
Shendow said young people should not sit on the sidelines and wait for a renewal of the draft or another dramatic change from the government. Instead, they should get involved in government today.
“Regardless of what you want to be, it’s imperative that you get involved,” Shendow said. “[Young voters] could have a tremendous impact on the government – local and state level – where their voices will be heard. You can sit on the side and say why [is the government] doing this or you can bring about change.”
Young people make excuses not to vote, said Rosanna Bencoach, policy manager of the Virginia State Board of Elections in Richmond, Va. Bencoach said that she did her first volunteer job in politics when she was 8 years old. Her elementary school was a voting precinct and she had the opportunity to wear a button and hold a poster.
“I had to wait 10 years to vote,” she said, laughing. “[Young adults] don’t think it’s important to their daily lives,” she said.
But Samuel Crawford Jr., 31, an electrician of Suitland, Md., who served in the U.S. Air force for five and a half years, said that young people do not make excuses not to vote.
While serving in the U.S. Air force, Crawford said that the voting process was easy. However, he said that he did not vote in the last presidential election because of time. He also does not believe that his vote makes a difference.
“For all of the bills that are passed, [Congress] doesn’t ask the people to vote,” Crawford said. “They pass the bill without our vote. I haven’t decided [about voting in the upcoming election],” he said. It depends on what’s going on.”
The 2007 12th Biannual Youth Survey on Politics and Public Service by the Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics at Harvard University, surveyed approximately three thousand 18-24 year olds on voting and politics.
Out of all the young people surveyed, 52 percent did not vote, and 44 percent said they voted in the 2006 mid-term election for the U.S. Congress, leaving 4 percent not sure. When thinking about national issues, 29 percent of young people said Iraq is the most important issue, while 14 percent said the war. Gas prices, taxes, religious issues, civil rights, stem cell research and Katrina were the least concerns of many young people.
The IOP found that from what young people have seen or heard about the situation in Iraq, 29 percent said the United States should decrease the number of troops in Iraq, while 29 percent said it should remove all its troops from Iraq.
Adam Fogel, the right to vote director at FairVote-Center for Voting and Democracy in Takoma Park, Md. said that young people in today’s society are different than past generations.
But not all think that young adults are apathetic in the political process. Fogel said that today’s youth are engaged in politics and public policy.
“There has been an increase in voter turnout,” Fogel said, referring to youth voters. “They are into civic education. They are getting to the polls and working on campaigns.”
Lauren Gardner, 21, a senior in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C., said that voting is something that every young person should take seriously.
“I’m an idealist,” Gardner said. “I feel that every vote does count. Women fought for the right to vote, and I should get involved.”
Gardner said that young people should read the newspaper daily and educate themselves about issues affecting our society, not just the war, but pro-life, pro-choice, domestic and foreign policy issues, and they will see that their vote and voice is essential in our democratic society.
“If you really research [issues] and you’re passionate about it,” Gardner said, “it will drive you to change.”
In the end, Bencoach said that parents should set an example for their children when it comes to voting in the presidential election or any election. She said that as she watched her mother vote during her childhood, she formed her own political ideas. At the age of 15, she joined the local Teenage Republicans in Virginia.
“My mom set a great example,” Bencoach said. “She never missed [voting]. Parents need to set that example for their children. I definitely wanted to know what went on behind the curtain.”