Voter Apathy Alarming as Election Approaches

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Courtesy of Cristian Lazzari

Madison Dalton, News Editor

“It’s National Pancake Week. Of course Mitt Romney was in a debate tonight, so it’s also National Waffle Week.” -Jimmy Fallon

“Thirty thousand kids and their parents participated in the annual White House Easter egg roll… The only problem was, First lady Michelle Obama was put in charge of the snacks. That’s like putting Rick Santorum in charge of a rave.” -Jimmy Kimmel

You probably didn’t get those jokes.  Which is exactly my point.

We live in a society in which political awareness is not only scarce in the population as a whole, but is painfully deficient in our youth.  This ignorance is not caused by a dearth of available political information, but by a feeling of apathy towards the political sphere among youth.

A 2011 Newsweek survey gave 1,000 US citizens the American citizenship test.  The test consisted of 100 questions, 60% of which the test taker needed to answer correctly in order to pass.  Thirty-eight percent of participants failed.  Sixty-three percent were not aware of how many Supreme Court justices there are.  Twenty-one percent could not answer who the vice president of the United States was.

To gain perspective, let’s compare American voters to those in other first-world nations. A March 2009 study by the European Journal of Communication surveyed citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. on questions regarding international affairs. We came in last.  Among other shortcomings, three quarters of British, Finnish and Danish people could identify who the Taliban was while just over half of Americans could.  Embarrassingly enough, America led the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Obviously we have an issue with political awareness in our country, but in a country in which 88% of people had internet access in 2011, lack of access to information is not the issue. The only other logical conclusion is that voter ignorance stems from voter apathy.  And this apathy is highest among our youth. In our last presidential election, 48.5% of 18-24 year-olds voted, compared of 51.1% of 18-29 year-old citizens and 67% of 30 and older citizens.  Barring the last election, in which the Obama campaign aroused unexpected enthusiasm in youth voters, the turnout of youth voters to presidential elections has steadily dropped since 1972.

Now, youth apathy is admittedly not a new problem to American politics.  According to a 1994 poll by Third Millennium, 9 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 believe Social Security will have the money to pay their retirement benefits while 46 percent think that there are UFOs.  However, the fact that youth voter apathy and ignorance is not a new problem does not make it any less dangerous of a problem.

In the words of Plato, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is you end up being governed by your inferiors.”