Voter turnout for younger voters (those younger than 25 years of age) has always been historically low. Yet the latest presidential election has incited a youth social movement to get young people to the voting polls. Pop-culture organizations such as MTV or radio station KROQ each have their own campaign to ‘Rock the Vote’ or ‘KROQ the Vote.’ It would appear that youth voting has become another trendy statement. And while it seems that higher voter turnout is optimistic in nature, there are positive and negative consequences to consider.
On the pro side, this trend works to reverse the notorious youth turnout rates, which are often half as high as the rates of older age groups (those who are middle-aged and seniors). As it stands, politicians are going to continue to focus on the age groups that are actually voting.
If the youth were to represent a larger percentage of the voting public, candidates would
be forced to focus on issues more connected with the younger generations. Hopefully, this pop-culture voting phenomenon
can reverse historical voting trends. And there’s no denying the kind of impact pop culture can have on the younger generations.
In the 1960s, an entire generation rose to political action and awareness with pop-culture icons as much at the forefront of social movements as activists. A concert known as Woodstock would go down in American history as one of the most influential social events of culture and activism. However, the movement of today hardly compares.
Now, on the con side, voting as a trendy statement carries with it certain consequences. While a great deal of literature exists on the issues of the upcoming election, there seems to be less emphasis on the critical analysis of these issues and more on image. It is easy to get lost amidst the flood of anger towards the candidates without realizing their stances on issues.
Furthermore, if this voting campaign is truly a trend, then like all trends it is destined to lose momentum. While this upcoming election is a very critical turning point, every election is important. If the youth returns to its old voting habits immediately after Election 2004, then the pop-culture movement would have failed to cause a lasting change. Lastly, the ‘Woodstock Generation’ incited change by taking politics beyond the voting polls. Change will occur not only through voting, but through the participation of the youth within their government, be it through activism, contacting representatives or even through direct involvement.
Those who vote due to pop-culture, in the end, I think will result in a mixed bag. On one hand any movement to get our generation to vote is going to help our lot. But on the other hand, voting should be a result of informed decision-making, not some pop-culture phenomenon. Far too often, it is easy to label and dismiss the other party’s candidate. It is disappointing that the two-party system works to stratify our society into two distinct sides, transforming it into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ sort of contest. Hopefully, people will look critically at all of the candidates and will not be afraid to vote outside of party lines or to discard trendy thought and vote for what they believe to be right.
Young people can cause change in the government through voting, but only by making a strong showing at every election and keeping informed on the real issues. MTV’s Web site, http://www.rockthevote.com,
is an encouraging site as they address many of the major issues students and young adults
are likely to face, issues like the draft and unfair election polling practices. But voting only in the upcoming election will not lead to social change.
Politicians need to realize students and young people are paying attention to political issues beyond the presidency. Our votes count for every election, especially in local contests. And I think that is the idea behind this article, for our generation to realize we can make a difference if we rise above apathy.
Students have a unique
opportunity in college,
where they are immersed
in a culture where free thought and organization is not
only possible but encouraged. Take courses that you would be interested in or join one of the many activist organizations out there. Stay informed and stay active.
Ernest Kim is a third-year engineering and political science major.