Thursday, January 27, 2011

Youth Voting

I am about to speculate, but that is, after all, the purpose of a blog. Why don't people vote? This is a question that has preoccupied scholars and enters into the political calculations of party officials and leaders. George W. Bush, for instance, seemed to have little interest in increasing the number of voters or registered voters in the US. Harper, in Canada, seems to express a similar lack of disinterest. My bet has been that this is based on an assessment of their core constituency.  Or, to say this differently, those not voting are unlikely to cast a pro-Harper (that is CPC) ballet. Hence, the government of the day has little interest in drumming up its own defeat.

I could be wrong. That is speculation but here is more. A great deal of time has been spent assessing youth political alienation and why youth don't vote. We have all matter of explanations: bad knowledge, political communications, shifting media, "post-materialist" values, etc., etc. I will confess that I don't by any of it. I've noted before that while youth spend a lot of time on computers, it would be wrong to over-estimate their tech savvy. And, I don't think we are any more post-materialist then any other generation (how did environmentalism somehow lose its materialist implications?). And, we could go on. I won't because the upshot is simple: I don't really by the existing arguments.

Here is a new one: the cultural extension of youth. Youth don't vote because the think of themselves as youth. Here my speculation is wild so to this as a first venture in forming an hypothesis. In the past, people looked forward to voting as a mark of adulthood. I did. It did not matter for whom you were voting; the important thing was that you were voting. You were exercising an adult responsibility. It was -- along with being able to stroll into a bar and not worry about being asked for ID -- a mark that one had grown up. And, that was important to us. We did not want to be children or youth. We looked forward to taking responsibility for ourselves and enjoying the rights of adult, in particular greater autonomy.

Do youth today still think like this? Or, do they get the autonomy and still get to be youth (that is, they don't have to accept the markers of adulthood, as we believed we did, in order to have our freedom). Do youth today not believe they are adult? Or, do they still see themselves as someone who is looked after by someone else (that is, a dependent or child). If they don't, if youth don't look forward to adulthood, have found other means to promote their autonomy, then they are not voting not because politics is not interesting (I don't think politics is any more or less interesting then it ever was) or because they are alienated (alienation is not new, folks) or because media have changed (find a  time in the twentieth century that media were not changing). Instead, youth are not voting because they have rejected this marker of adulthood and the self-conception it implies. Their autonomy is provided by someone else (parents paying the bills, for instance) and so there has been a cultural extension of youth.

Now, I am trying not be judgemental. I am venturing an explanation; not a moral judgement. How exact might this be? How could we measure it? Those are questions I will leave off for another day. I'll end this blog in anecdotal fashion since I'm not being very scientific in my analysis anyway. We have all seen movies or TV shows about adult children remaining at home. I had one of those moments. The other day I was in a meeting and some of the people (my co-workers) in the meeting were suggesting that "the kid" (by which they meant someone at Mount A) was having problems and that someone might need to intervene on behalf of "the kid." Heck, I said, yep, if "the kid" needs help, someone should help "the kid." By the way, I asked (concerned about "the kid") how old is "the kid" anyway? One of my co-workers said "or, 30 or 32."

Now, this is scary. We have someone who is potentially 32 who cannot fight their own battles. Yes, power differentials exist. They exist because of class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and because of age. But, we are talking about an adult male. I'd been married for almost 10 years at "the kid's" age. We were infantilizing this guy and he was willing to let us do this because we were fighting his battles for him. Why, then, should he become involved? Why should he participate? Would you?
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