Young people aren’t naturally uncaring; they just aren’t being adequately engaged
“They don’t find it interesting”; “They think they are too cool”; “They don’t know enough” — these are the classic lines spouted off on the issue of youth political apathy.
The notions that youth are simply uninterested and uninformed when it comes to political affairs lead critics to believe that better information and advertising will galvanize youth and bring them to the voting booth. However, these conceptions are unfair to youth and assume the problem is easily fixable. They overlook the underlying structural issues that keep youth away from politics.
If you have read any major Canadian newspapers over the last several years, the consistent line has been that youth cannot find proper jobs, they are in a lot of debt, they are not buying homes and cars, et cetera. This is a serious structural issue in Canada; youth unemployment is hovering around 13 per cent — nearly double the overall national employment average.
While this issue is large and definitely needs solving, unemployment issues are already coopted by the political system. Almost every party has a plan to create more jobs; some have even been audacious enough to name their entire platform after job creation. To the average young adult, it seems that all political parties will attempt to create jobs in some way; — choosing one does not really matter all that much. Furthermore, even if the records of all parties are deemed spotty, the post-2008 financial crisis world has shown that group action on structural economic issues is arguably meaningless. The failure of Occupy Wall Street and of financial experts to completely right the system does not give youth much hope that their political actions will have much success either.
The poor financial state of youth exacerbates their alienation from the political system. By many accounts, youth are getting started later in life than ever before. Education and training take longer, steady jobs are further off, homes are on the distant horizon, and the thought of starting a family does not even cross their minds.
All these markers of adulthood are traditional mainstays of political engagement. Most political campaigns are directed at adults and therefore build their platform around taxes and policies in the areas of employment, housing, and families. Canadian youth’s new pathway to adulthood and their changing preferences will keep them alienated from this system. Unfortunately, it won’t be until youth grow into these roles that the political system will reflect their needs.
While many youth may engage in politics at a young age by supporting various parties, they have not been effective in promoting policies that are directly relevant to their demographic. It becomes an almost philosophical debate over what they think would be best for their eventual adult selves.
Youth are therefore stuck in a bit of a catch-22. They don’t feel like engaging in politics because the system does not accurately reflect their needs — but if they want to engage appropriately in the current political system, they need to become more like traditional adults. Something could eventually break the catch. Perhaps youth will stand up en masse and demand to see policies that impact them, or maybe youth will start new parties for a new century.
Christian Medeiros is a third-year international relations specialist at Trinity College.
Students are busier, and more inundated by negative political media than ever before
I never thought the day would come, but the 2014 municipal election campaign in Toronto is finally over. So what could possibly be next?
The 2015 federal election campaign is already well underway. The Liberals and the NDP are already giving sneak previews of their platforms; NDP leader Thomas Mulcair proposed a national child-care plan on October 14.
Because the last federal election was in 2011 and much of the opposition parties’ leadership has changed since then, pundits also expect voter turnout to rise relative to 2011.
But will you go out and vote? Will your peers?
Trends say you won’t. The numbers say youth are increasingly disengaged from the political process and are turning out in record-low numbers at the polls. So the real question is, why? Are youth naturally politically apathetic?
A look into history indicates that youth political apathy is a recent phenomenon. As former Ontario premier and former Federal Liberal interim leader Bob Rae put it, for youth back in the day, voting was “just what you did.”
Hence, youth political apathy isn’t something “natural,” but rather a product of a cause-and-effect scheme with several factors taking place over several decades. Historically, youth turnout has been lower than older age cohorts, but only dropped below 50 per cent after the turn of the century.
One important factor is negative media coverage. Most of the information that young people receive from the media on the political sphere is defined by salaciousness and scandal. Whether it’s the provincial gas plant scandal, Senator Mike Duffy’s lavish expenditures, or Rob Ford’s endless gaffes as mayor of Toronto, the media’s all over it. As a result, youth generalize. Youth find it hard to remember days of more honourable political conduct.
Another factor is the government’s perceived inability to tackle major issues, such as rising tuition, dim economic prospects, and climate change. Different leaders from different parties have all pledged change, but many issues still look dire as ever. This is why many young people think different candidates and parties are “all the same.”
The fact that these issues are also singularly relevant for the future of generation Y and Z’s well-being and survival fosters an attitude of pessimism that translates into absence at the polls.
Present manifestations of those issues also decrease youth civic participation because having tangible priorities can diminish the urgency of voting as a civic duty.
Students are busy — arguably busier than ever. It’s very hard to find time to do research and keep yourself updated in order to cast an informed vote, let alone navigate through the bureaucratic process and physically line up at the polls.
That’s only the beginning of why civic participation has dropped to tragic levels among today’s bright young people. It will be a steady process, but things can always turn around.
Take a look at the world around you. Talk to people. Broaden your horizons and see how public policy has influenced countless lives. It can affect yours, too; you just have to let it.
Christopher Lee is a second-year student at Victoria College studying peace and conflict studies, as well as justice and employment relations.