The 411: Politics a bore to most teens | February 8, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - February 8, 2008

The 411: Politics a bore to most teens

by Katharine O'Hara

In light of the ongoing presidential primary elections, I thought it appropriate to explore the nature of teen participation in politics, especially in a year that will bring much change for all of us. For a significant number of teens (those who will turn 18), 2008 offers their first opportunity to influence the political process, some gaining the ability to cast a vote in the primary and November general elections.

Interest in the elections among teens seems to be split: While a small portion of students are fascinated, the vast majority could care less, either because they are not interested or because they are not 18 and cannot influence the outcome of the election anyway. I have come to fear most of my peers have grown generally apathetic to many of the political and other issues and events we are in the midst of.

"There are kids who are politically interested for one reason or another - from their parents or something else, but the majority of students do not even know what's going on. I would be surprised if you asked if they even knew there was an election," remarked Jeff Davis, a social studies teacher at San Ramon Valley High School. According to Davis, this apathy is nothing new.

"Kids are as disengaged as they have always been. The only reason youth voted in the 1960s was because of the draft. Had there not been a draft, kids would have been checked out."

"I don't think the teen vote is that influential," Davis continued, "because to put it simply, they don't vote - except that it appears candidate Barack Obama's success in Iowa was tied to getting young people to vote."

Indeed, 65,000 voters ages 18-30 participated in the Iowa caucuses last month (nearly three times the number of participants in 2004), and a whopping 57 percent of votes for Obama were cast by voters below the age of 30.

This election, the candidates are especially making large efforts to reach American youth. Most of the primary candidates have even created campaign pages on social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook to target young people, who are the primary users of such sites. Other Web sites, like the non-partisan group VoteHelp, also allow individuals to take surveys and quizzes that help to clarify their position on certain issues, and to find the candidate their views best match.

Some states are also trying to make the youth influence more significant, by extending the vote to 17-year-olds. In Virginia, teens that are 17 but will turn 18 by November's general election will be allowed to register and vote in the current primary elections. Other states, like Maryland, are also considering changing their policy.

Even if not completely interested in the political scene, students should still be informed. For one reason or another - lack of interest, time, resources, etc. - students are not getting the information they need to form substantiated opinions, make an informed vote, and contribute to the democratic process. I think there is a general assumption that teens do not want to know, or that they do not care. But, this current generation of youth has been deemed "Generation Now" for a reason - it is possible that teens are interested, but need the news and information handed to them on a silver platter. Still, there is no excuse. There are many resources available, and teens should be making every effort to be informed, and to exercise the democratic rights with which they are endowed.

"Youth should take advantage of their right to vote, because at our age we are able to really figure out what we think and how we feel; if we allow ourselves to just vote the way our parents vote then we will possibly and probably end up voting against our own interests and our own beliefs," said SRVHS senior Mike Gibbons. "In addition, the laws that are being passed now will affect teens more than any other demographic for the next 10 or 20 years. We have the greatest interest in what laws get passed in the next five or 10 years because they will affect us most."

"I think forming an educated opinion and exercising it is essential to a functioning democracy, " Venture High School senior Robbie Pruett noted. "The more votes are cast, the more opinions are represented; that is the definition of democracy."

America's youth have always been more or less uninterested in politics, and those who do vote frequently do so on the basis of family beliefs, not personal ones. The idea of engaging the youth of America as a whole is logistically impossible; but, in order to serve the interests of this significant part of the population, it is imperative that a large portion of American youth form and express their opinions via the vote. It is important to encourage young people to be aware, and to pique their interest and set in place voting habits at an early age in order to inspire lifelong democratic contribution.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at


Like this comment
Posted by Sara
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2008 at 6:33 am

I think that there has been an interest in young voters. This is the first year I have seen that candidates have taken the time to attempt to win the young voters. There is also an increase in topics concerning younger people in this election.

Like this comment
Posted by Jane Watkins
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2008 at 7:42 am

Posted at the request of the author

Dear Katherine,

You have illustrated an important point about teenagers. The say one thing, even claim ignorance, but mean something quite different.

In western region political polling, Voters 18 to 24 are now a major focus because they have strong opinions and are participating in large numbers in special interests campaigns. It is easy to see youth campaigning to stop United States violent intervention in other countries, especially IRAQ, but the campaigns for educational funding and reform, new energy research, and even more representative local governments are drawing actions and opinions among young voters.

Most interesting, Katherine, is the shift in majority influence by age. 18 to 34 is the largest group of probable voters and the majority of probable voters is now under 42.

Great subject and well-written commentary, thank you,

Jane/API Research
Western USA Region

Posted by a member of CDSI Research Fellowship,

Like this comment
Posted by Macie
a resident of Danville
on Mar 28, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Katharine does a great job in every column she writes.

Like this comment
Posted by CDSI Research Fellowship
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2008 at 9:50 am

Campaigns must take young voters seriously

By: Jane Fleming Kleeb, posted to Yahoo News

The 2008 presidential cycle is here, and candidates are increasingly competing for the youth vote. Rightfully so, as young people voted in record numbers in the 2004 and 2006 elections, and all signs point to an even larger turnout in 2008. It is not just hype or hope that young voters can swing an election; young people, ages 18-35, have proved they are voting at higher numbers and are now voting overwhelmingly for Democrats.

The question is: What is it going to take to continue to get young people to the polls?

MTV and MySpace recently launched a new type of online discussion with candidates that will, in theory, reach young people in order to get them motivated to vote. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards recently said, “You hear all the time from political pundits that young people don’t care about politics, but it’s a lie. Young people all over the country care about America and are engaged in bringing change to their communities.”


A CDSI Research courtesy,

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Blackhawk
on Mar 30, 2008 at 11:19 am

I don't know. Katherine seems pretty tuned in to her classmates and says they are apathetic regarding elections. Maybe after they turn 18...

Like this comment
Posted by Jack Johnson
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2008 at 2:02 pm

i'm from Washington state, and i'm a teen involved in this election.
It is true most of my generation is uninformed but many of us are.
sadly, most people support barack for his race at our age. but i know his ideas for this country and i agree with them strongly.
i beleive that if Senator Barack Obama is elected, then during the next election we will have an amazing young voter turnout. i really beleive that politics should be a large part of the curriculum, starting at 8th grade(most of the students will be able to vote in the next election by then) and going on throughout highschool.
thanks for reading- Jack Johnson-13 in seattle.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Montair Elementary School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?