In the 4,400 words of the U.S. Constitution that detail the structure and function of our government, the word “democracy” is not used a single time. Despite this fact, the majority of U.S. citizens view democracy, government by the people, as a distinctly American concept. Our nation is a democratic republic, in which the people elect representatives who then make decisions on their behalf. This simple fact provokes a question: in a governmental system in which the people’s power lies solely in their vote, why is voter participation so low? In a world in which government touches nearly every aspect of life, how can the American people, particularly young people, decline the opportunity to have their voices heard?
With midterm elections today, every pundit, party, and politician is attempting to convince eligible voters to turn out and vote. No one needs to persuade me. I have been itching to vote since the day I turned 18. Sadly, many people my age do not share the same excitement. According to NPR, millennials (people ages 18-35) represent 31 percent of eligible voters. Only 46 percent of millenials voted in the 2016 presidential election. With voter turnout being predictably lower for midterm elections, I can only imagine what millennial turnout will look like this November sixth. This statistic does not take into account the Gen-Z kids that will cast their first ballot this year. In late 2014, The Economist reported that of the younger age bracket, people ages 18-24, only 21 percent voted in the 2010 midterms.
Just like any other young, politically active student, I have a favorite political T.V. drama that I draw inspiration from. My go-to show is The West Wing. There is a line used a few times throughout the series that directly applies to the seemingly rampant political apathy we see today: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” The first time those words are said is season one, episode 22, and they are said by fictional President Josiah Bartlet. He says:
“Here’s an answer to your question that I don’t think you’re going to like. . .Your generation is considerably less likely than any previous one to write or call public officials, attend rallies, or work on political campaigns. A man once said this, “decisions are made by those who show up.” So are we failing you, or are you failing us? It’s a little of both.”
A study from The Economist suggests that young people don’t vote because they don’t think any candidate is worth their vote. If you feel that the candidates that are running don’t represent you or your values, don’t withdraw from the political process. Instead, become more involved. Help campaign for candidates you do believe in. Vote in primaries so you have a say in who will appear on the ballot in general elections. The government can only represent the voices of those who vote. Decisions are made by those who show up.
The aforementioned study also indicates that younger generations do not vote because they don’t feel any strong connection to larger society. Many people ages 18-24 are unmarried, do not have children, and do not own property. However, you must look toward the future. One day, you may be married, have kids, and live in your first house. A policy put in place tomorrow could affect people for generations to come. On The West Wing (Season four, Episode three), the one and only press secretary C.J. Cregg says it best:
“Think government isn’t about you?. . . How many [of you] want clean air and clean water and civil liberties? How many want jobs? How many want kids? How many want their kids to go to good schools and walk on safe streets? Decisions are made by those who show up. You gotta rock the vote!”