Voting & veiled excuses

Nidhi Reddy

When I entered UT as a freshman, I was just 17 years old. I resented being younger than all of my friends, and being too young to buy scratch-off lottery tickets or go into certain bars on Sixth Street. But beyond those complaints, I hated most of all that I couldn’t vote. I wished that, like many of my peers, I had been old enough to vote in the 2008 election.

Writing this article three years later, I find myself comparatively disillusioned about the presidential election and politics in general. And I’m not alone. A 2010 RockTheVote survey found 59 percent of the people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 feel more cynical about politics than they did in 2008.

A Gallup poll from July 2012 predicted a 20 percent lower turnout in youth voting in November’s election compared to 2008.

“If we’re thinking about apathy in young people, I think it’s always really important to clarify that it’s a specific apathy – it’s an apathy to partisan politics and not a ‘young people don’t care about politics’ kind of thing,” said associate government professor Bethany Albertson.

At the Strauss Institute’s Oct. 2 screening of the televised discussion “Why Bother? Engaging Texans in Democracy Today,” attendees shared their own motivations for participating — or not participating — in politics.

“So, I kind of came up with this Crips and Bloods theory… they’re two different gang organizations kind of going for the same thing,” said one student in the audience. “I kind of see that in the Democrat and Republican parties.”

Increasing polarization of political parties and distrust of the government has left students feeling alienated from national politics and from the generation before them.

Statistics, however, indicate that there are benefits to siding with a political party; partisanship makes you more likely to vote and requires less time for independent research on candidates and issues.

Young people often complain about the polarization of parties and sometimes even fuel the flame by contributing to the back-and-forth name calling, but we are largely uninvolved in local or state politics, arenas where individual votes really do count and can influence what happens where we live and work.

“I thought of a message of Grace Lee Boggs, an activist and an academic in Detroit, gave to the young Occupiers – ‘Do something local and don’t diss the political systems, but understand their limitations … ‘We begin to see that voting is really a piece of this huge puzzle of civic engagement that involves a lot more time and commitment,” said Carmen, a 27-year-old audience member. “When you do start getting involved on a local level, you start to learn things … that yes, our vote does count.”

Instead of following the “Don’t Vote” mantra of Lupe Fiasco, a rapper deeply dissatisfied with the American political process, college students should get involved in organizations that aim to solve the problems they are passionate about. Frustration with partisan politics too often becomes a thinly veiled veiled excuse to not participate at all.  

Reddy is a radio, television and film and mathematics senior from Bedford.