COMMENTARY

Young voters need more choices

Posted

Everyone's perspective is framed by their life circumstances and experiences. From our perspective, we act on our choices.

When it comes to young people, they just don't vote. Political groups have struggled to find ways to increase participation. Millions of dollars have been spent on voter registration efforts. Major legislation, such as automatic voter registration, has been passed. But young voters still aren't showing up to the polls. 

No matter how easy we make the voting process, or how many times we tell them it's their civic duty, why would young voters exercise their right to vote if they don't perceive voting to be meaningful?

Circumstance: Young voters have grown up in a world of virtually unlimited choice. Order a burrito from your phone, or take an Uber to Joe's Vegan Donuts. Watch a documentary on Netflix, or play video games with your friend in China. Find an answer on Google, or send a direct message on Twitter to an expert.

In this world of choices, young potential voters can mobilize their online and offline friends around events and causes that directly affect their lives, and they can witness the impact of their individual contributions. Chip in $50 to help a new start-up and get a widget when production begins. Start a Facebook group to inform the community about a local injustice. Start a fantasy football team to keep in contact with high school friends.

This is the world of collective action. It is a world in which young potential voters have experience. And it has meaning.

Experience: When it comes to partisan politics, young voters have only experienced a world in which choices are limited. Know-it-alls on one side have all the answers to our complex problems. Talking heads in the media, entertainment and even sports know all the simplistic solutions. They spew their opinions in unison, and if you don't agree with them, the implication is that your opinion must be grounded in evil.

Choose from one million emojis, but only two political opinions. Choose either opinion, and you're bound to lose friends.

Perspective: Having grown up in a world of seemingly unlimited choices, except in politics, young voters might perceive politics to be a farce. Change happens in the real world, where our circumstances give us the tools to make a difference. Drama happens in partisan politics, where we get divided by the theater. Participating in the theater could threaten our connections. And without our connections, we can no longer mobilize our friends and our communities to make a real difference.

This is a perspective that devalues political participation. So what would deter or motivate a young potential voter to participate in the act of voting?

Deterrence: The best way to deter young voters is to reinforce their perspective that a candidate or issue is just another act in the political theater. This is accomplished by perpetuating zero-sum politics that frames every issue and race as a game of numbers, where getting voters to one side is a victory over the other.

Motivation: The best way to motivate a young voter is for political leaders and commentators to prove that you can participate without being a pawn to the political theater. This can be accomplished only when politicians focus on reducing the barriers to collective action, in which earning a vote is a victory for everyone.

— Chad Peace is a founding board member of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers.

Comments