How often do you feel disengaged and confused by the current political sphere and agenda within the country? Many may even feel disgusted by the word politics itself. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone in that matter. Much of America’s youth population struggles with coming to terms with who they most currently relate to or agree with on specific political issues. Big words and headlines present openings into large sweeping issues; which someone who is young may have yet to learn of or have any experience with. So how does someone young and naive to democracy become someone willing to participate? The answer actually resides in our own youth itself.
During my time being a college student, researching and experiencing the struggles our youth has in grasping the importance of civic participation, I have learned firsthand the importance of youth leadership and its correlation to youth engagement. At the high school level, I was pretty naive like most to what politics means to the individual and how it shapes our everyday lives. At the time Andy Vargas, a member of the Haverhill, MA city council was working on campaigning for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During this campaign, he was 23, one of the youngest members from my municipality. Due to this his age had a direct impact on the youth population and acceptance contrary to seen in other parts of the country. According to the US Census Bureau, recent years’ results show that millennial voting rates have increased slightly, and on average have been the only age group to see voter increase since 2012. Even though this may seem to most people, that the youth population is being enabled and willing to vote, it is quite the opposite.
Averages like the one I mentioned before may be a trend in the right direction to total youth participation, however, this increase only shows that about half of your youth is actually flooding into the ballot stations. This outcome may be due to numerous reasons, as many of today’s youth populations may feel unrepresented by political heads or ill-equipped in their knowledge of politics in general. A report published by Tufts Circle: Half of Youth Voted in 2020, An 11-Point Increase from 2016 sheds some light on why this is an arising issue. Findings showed that youth between the ages 18-19 are the youngest and have the least experience with the process of voting. Due to this many are unaware of the process behind registering and have little habits about when to vote and where. Another factor that has caused this issue is the changing of state voting laws since 2020. An article from the Pew Research Center reads, “While some states have rolled back early voting, absentee or mail-in voting, and other rule changes that made voting easier in 2020 – or adopted new rules that make voting more difficult or inconvenient – other states have expanded ballot access.” Reworkings of the voting system and also with a age group that is mostly on the move either due to moving residence and going to school, differences in voting registration and allegiance to a certain figure causes lackluster numbers in civic participation.
So why say: Youth stimulates Youth? Well from my experience the relationship between youth leaders in politics aids in the understanding of its importance and prevalence in our society. As stated before, the young age of Andy Vargas was what helped me become aware of the importance the youth has in the way our democracy is run. While working under him by assisting in his campaign run I saw the importance he had on the city’s youth and this was shown in the large numbers of young high schoolers and college students who helped participate in his campaign as well. Along with this, education and youth participation were some of the leading points of his campaign, which made many of the youth who participated in backing him feel included and excited about what they were doing. Compare this to current politics many young adults feel troubled by the older generations who forefront of most of the leading issues. Disinformation and misinterpreted information worsen the lack of trust between voters and politicians and with this increased amounts of polarization are present in politics.
So to bridge this gap and in term aid the amount of youth participation, we must place emphasis on youth-headed campaigns and activism. Youth-encouraged democracy and inclusive/equal voting must be something placed at the forefront of importance in society. If our nation is going to be run on the next wave of individuals, and the youth sector of America is dormant, then what do we have a democracy for?