However, engaging young voters, be it through traditional or new media, takes more than just “pitching” a campaign message to them. Luke Farmer, a 21-year old graduate student at the University of Georgia believes that candidates blunder when they treat young voters as a demographic to be fed a marketing campaign rather than as individuals. “They sell us one cookie-cutter candidate after another, when there’s no functional difference,” Farmer says.
Farmer adds that young voters are well aware of when candidates trying to pitch their campaigns to them and will not vote for candidates they feel won’t make a difference. “Our generation, more than any other, knows when someone is trying to sell them something,” he says. “If that traditional, inherently conservative model, is obeyed, young people’s cynicism will be confirmed and most won’t get involved in politics any way.”
Political insiders, such as Thomas Bates, vice president for Civic Engagement at the non-profit organization Rock the Vote, says the responsibility for the shortfall in turnout among young voters lies with campaigns that don’t ask young people for their votes.
Bates says young people don’t have the same kind of voting history as adults because they do not receive mail, phone calls or knocks on their doors from candidates. In addition, Bates says, political advertising dollars are less likely to be spent on the outlets they watch and on platforms where they consume information.
Finally, Bates points out that a number of campaigns in 2010 did not pay enough attention to the youngest generation of voters—and what young people did hear from candidates was irrelevant to their lives and concerns.
But Anna Farrand, a 20-year-old junior at Chapman University in California says that while young people are fickle voters, they can be brought to the ballot box by politicians who talk about issues that are relevant to them.
“Most young people don’t have a good idea of what is going on the public policy sphere,” she observes. “I think making the issues relevant to them would be more productive than sheer repetition. A lot of young people just don’t think it affects them.”
For many young people, Farrand adds, “it does not make sense to pay attention to politics and current events because there is no direct benefit. It costs people time and effort to learn about the issues and most young people would rather spend that time and effort doing something directly beneficial.”
The common assumption that young people only care about themselves is not accurate, Farrand says. “This millennial generation is actually pretty interested in improving the world around them,” she suggests. “They want to tear down institutions and structures in order to improve them.”
On the other hand, Farmer, the University of Georgia grad student, says young people have to take some responsibility for engaging themselves. “If we want people to be engaged, we can’t count on older generations,” he says. “They already have their interests met, because they are already in power. If we want our voices heard, we need to break the marketing model of electioneering and remember that true political engagement is about more than picking between some candidates and going home to watch TV.”
Carmen Singleton is an intern at C&E. She is herself a young voter, and cast her first vote in 2008.