What You See is Not What You Get: Looking at the Young Voters of Today
Do today’s youth care about politics?
By Spencer Emmerson
If you were to ask Canadian youth who our prime minister is, you would probably be surprised at the answers you receive. Some would range from the correct – Don Cherry – to the incorrect – Stephen Harper. Wait, I may have that wrong.
The question of whether the world’s youth are active enough or care about political, social and cultural issues is an important one.
Over the last decade, political leaders have been asking their countries’ young adults to head out to their local polling stations and vote during elections. This particular tactic has tended to fall on deaf ears for a couple reasons. First of all, political leaders, like Stephen Harper, tend to resemble parent-like figures in the eyes of this young generation. As such, to listen to these authorities would break the unwritten rule held between the world’s youth of never listening to your parents until they threaten to kick you out of their house. Secondly, despite euphemistically bearing the name of some imagined strip club, these polling stations just don’t sound all that hip. Perhaps it is time to call them YOLO stations.
All kidding aside, the early 21st century was marred by considerably declined youth turnout for elections throughout North America. Since political leaders’ asking the youth to vote wasn’t having the desired affect, they needed to go another route. Enter celebrities and Borat.
In 2008, months before Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States, a celebrity campaign was launched to attract America’s youth to the polls. This particular campaign had some of the planet’s most recognizable celebrities cracking wise and educating folks on the importance of voting. (Four years prior to this campaign, a similar campaign was launched by P. Diddy, but ultimately failed in large part because nobody could trust a guy with 24 nicknames.) It was an ingenious idea: instead of having parent-like figures encouraging youth to vote, have the cool figures do it. In that election year the youth vote rose to over 60 per cent.
Fast-forward four years to the 2012 election, and the question of ‘how do we get the youth out again?’ rears its ugly head. Since 2008 went so swimmingly, an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality brought back several celebrities and a couple of new ones – P. Diddy was once again not welcomed back. Sorry, Diddy.
Unfortunately the idea of using celebrities had a best-before date and it read 2008. This election saw youth turnout fall to 48 per cent. How could a campaign that was previously so successful fail miserably in its second attempt?
Maybe it was when Joseph Gordon-Levitt said, “Vote to end dubstep,” a statement which angered an expectedly large youth demographic who like listening to music that sounds like robots doing it. Perhaps it was when some of the celebrities said, “You can literally vote for anything,” and some of America’s youth literally voted for Cheerios over Obama, which ultimately spoiled their ballots. Or maybe, just maybe, America’s youth, like much of the world’s youth, grew tired of the same old faulty political system.
Through advancements in technology over the last decade and a bit, the world’s youth have been connected to information like no other generation before them. Ideas and information can be obtained at a single click of a mouse thanks to what the kids call the Internet. Perhaps low voter turnout isn’t a sign of a lack of interest by today’s youth, but rather an understanding and a stance against it.
In 2008, a majority of the youth voters backed Barack Obama and what he stood for and promised to achieve.