Every four years, the presidency is up for grabs, and citizens have a chance to vote and put whoever they want in office. Many questions resurface around election years; however, no question resurfaces more frequently than this: why aren’t millennials voting?
There are several well-documented reasons why people don’t vote, and I will discuss them both here and in several articles that will follow over the coming weeks.
The United States of America has long been regarded as a bastion of freedom, a protector of human rights, and a haven of free speech and civic engagement. The U.S., a democratic republic, encourages its citizens to engage in political discourse and debate to form and reinforce a true democracy. It also affords it citizens the ultimate tool of democracy: the right to vote and choose their leaders and representatives.
While voting participation has been atrocious among millennials, overall political participation has stayed the same–or even increased. According to Russell Dalton’s The Good Citizen, “Voting is important, but citizens are now much more likely to say they would turn to other methods when trying to influence the government.” Dalton, citing a 1967 Verba-Nie survey, reasserts the idea of political participation by saying that “[in 1967] two-thirds of the public said they were very or somewhat interested in politics. Twenty years later, however, rather than a subsequent drop in interest, political interest held steady in 1987, and it remained at this higher level when the question was repeated in 2000.”
Voting power is commonly seen as the tool that makes a democracy so great, but the political interests of today’s youth lie elsewhere: protests and boycotts have risen in popularity while voting has been left by the wayside. Millennials aren’t shying away from politics, but they are moving from duty-based citizenship (i.e. voting) to engaged citizenship. Engaged citizenship is a form of engagement that usually describes protesting, boycotts, occupy rallies, and signing a petition.
So why is engaged citizenship rising in popularity?
In short, engaged citizenship is more action-packed than voting. Protests are regularly held on college campuses and in major cities for a variety of reasons, and news cycles over the past five years have shown how involved young people have been in those events. Young people see protesting as a more explosive and attention-grabbing way to voice their opinion.
By contrast, voting has devolved into a mundane and boring activity, and it fails to capture the attention of young voters. In a 2008 New Yorker article, Jill Lepore explained that before progressive reforms, voting used to be exciting. Polling places weren’t set up under the drab fluorescent lighting of a high school gym; instead, they were set up in smoke-filled bars. Who wouldn’t want to vote for their candidate whilst downing an ice cold beer? Rowdy debates were held before voting began, and ballots were provided by each party. Granted, this did lead to corruption, and progressive reforms have provided safer and more secure voting. However, those improvements came at a cost.
Engaged citizenship has drawn the attention of millennials, so much so that they would rather protest than vote. To recapture their interest, we must return some excitement to voting. Once voting evolves out of mundanity, millennials will want to vote again.
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Please stay tuned for future articles in this series!