Political gridlock deters young voters

Frustrated campaign pollsters from both major political parties continue to scour the nation in search of a catchy message that will pique the interest of young, upwardly mobile voters. Still, more 20-somethings than ever are opting out of the political process. According to a recent National Election Studies survey, about 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they don’t believe government representatives can possibly relate to the kinds of problems and concerns confronting ordinary folks like themselves. Nearly as many don’t trust the government to do anything right most of the time. And roughly one third don’t really care who is elected president in November.A recent spurt in community activism among young Americans suggests the 20-something generation isn’t as alienated from the political process as these statistics imply. Nevertheless, a diminishing faith in the government’s willingness to adequately address citizen interests doesn’t say much for the vitality of our democratic system.
Tuning out of political decision-making will only undermine this generation’s role in strengthening the nation’s economic infrastructure as the U.S. continues its conversion into a global market. Fostering cohesion in an increasingly complex society, moreover, will be impossible without the political support of young, educated Americans, who are often more accepting of diverse views and dissenting opinions than their baby boom parents.
Mean-spirited political wrangling is the only politics young Americans know. And when the nation’s legislators do occasionally get around to discussing substantive political matters such as health care reform and economic policy, the political preferences of individual citizens are often lost amid the clamor of big-money interest groups and self-promoting politicians. The fact that government elites are surprised that so many young Americans are reluctant to identify with a political party is indicative of Washington’s mounting isolation from issues important to people outside the beltway.
Legislative struggles to construct this year’s federal budget exemplified the stalemate that has come to define politics in the United States. Congressional leaders from both parties sacrificed such basic government commitments as veteran’s health care benefits and children’s education programs, and a prolonged standoff twice forced President Clinton into shutting down the government. Young Americans cannot be entirely pardoned for their unwillingness to tackle pressing issues through the electoral process, but lawmakers are largely to blame for fostering widespread political disaffection.
Democracy is about citizens working together to build communities based on individual values and interests. Deliberation and compromise are necessary to accommodate the breadth of citizen concerns. It’s easy to understand why young Americans don’t give much time or thought to politics, but only thoughtful participation — despite our leaders’ unyielding ways — will break the gridlock and spawn more meaningful choices.