Voter apathy among American youth on the rise

KRT NEWSFEATURES By Karen Branch-Brioso St. Louis Post-Dispatch (KRT) WASHINGTON _ Marlina Hunt teaches special education classes at St. Louis Academy and is a devoted volunteer who tutors children at her church in East St. Louis, Mo. But she doesn’t vote. “When elections come up, I’ve never been intrigued by any of it. It doesn’t seem important to me,” said Hunt, 24, who hasn’t registered to vote. “I think it has something to do with my younger days; the way government was taught never seemed that interesting to me.” Hunt is among millions of young people in the United States who are increasingly active in their communities, yet part of a steady decline in voter turnout, according to a study released earlier this month by the Carnegie Corp. The study showed that since 1972 _ the year when 18-to-20-year-olds first became eligible to vote _ turnout among 18-to-24-year-olds has declined by 13 percent. During the same period, turnout among voters 25 and older also declined _ but by about 4 percent. The study’s author, Alison Byrne Fields, said young people shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for their apathy. “They’re volunteering at higher levels than previous generations ever did. This is more about them rejecting traditional political processes,” said Byrne Fields, former chief strategist for Rock the Vote. “Candidates and elected officials rarely take their perspective into consideration _ and they often outright ignore them. This leads them to ask, `What does this have to do with me?’ ” The Carnegie study cited an analysis of media buys in the 2000 presidential election that showed 64 percent of the candidates’ ads were placed during programming that was most popular among people older than 50 _ who comprised 37 percent of the population. In contrast, just 14 percent of the ads were placed on programs that targeted younger viewers _ age 18 to 34 _ even though that age group makes up 31 percent of the electorate. Amanda Strom, 24, is a University of Missouri at St. Louis optometry student who registered to vote three years ago _ but hasn’t voted. She is an active volunteer, helping with a group that readies used prescription eyeglasses for donation to the poor. But she’s not persuaded that her vote would make a difference. She said candidates have never sent her mail to tell her why it would. “I feel like I don’t have enough information on who’s running or what kind of impact it would have,” Strom said. “You see on TV the `he-said, she-said,’ but I don’t have time to go out to pursue researching the candidates on my own.” The Carnegie study also attributes young-voter apathy to a decline in civics education nationwide. Civics, the study of rights and responsibilities of citizenship, is often wrapped into broader courses in government or history. Curtis Gans is the director of the Washington-based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. He said the age group with the best turnout _ 65 and older _ grew up accustomed to voting and the activities that best prepare people to vote. “Schools were more into citizenship,” Gans said. “We had weekly editions of Time magazine and we were tested on current events. … We had a media much less cynical and much less dominated by visual media. Parents did indeed talk about politics. If we’re going to do something to (reverse turnout declines), we’re going to need a civics curriculum that’s woven from third grade to college that returns a focus to current events _ to newspapers and magazine reading, because they get to things in depth.” ___ ‘copy 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.