Young voters

The Luddites of the world may sneer at today’s technological marvels, but young people are connected to the new medium and are its primary users. If you want youth to pay attention, don’t turn to traditional media outlets — radio, newspapers and even television just don’t cut it anymore; they’re attuned to iPods, e-mail and text-messaging.

There are certain truths to be understood, among which is the fact that young adults are more likely to get their news about the world around them from Internet webcasts or blogs rather than TV newscasts. If they want the latest hockey scores, don’t expect them to wait around the television set until 6:20 p.m. for a  sports broadcast — they’re more likely to go to the Web for instant gratification of their curiosity. Watching some talking head spew out last night’s NHL results just isn’t immediate enough. If they want information, they want it now, and they know where to get it. After all, they are the world’s computer and technological savvy. Ask yourself, this question: How many times have you asked your six-year-old grandchild to program your VCR. Oops, pardon me, DVD player. VCRs are now a toy of the past. Even the so-called youth-oriented MTV started in the dark ages of the 1980s is dated with the coming of iPod.

Of course, there are real-time dangers to relying solely upon the Internet — there’s an awful lot of bogus information out there in cyberspace passing as the truth. The Internet credo should be: user beware; be skeptical not susceptible.

The statistics for voting are dismal among young adults. In the last federal election, only 38 per cent bothered to show up at the polls. On the other hand, over 80 per cent of voters 48 and older cast a ballot in the 2000 election.

A Statistics Canada report called Willing to Participate: Political Engagement of Young Adults found that only 59 per cent of individuals in their 20s had voted in at least one election. Nationally, 77 per cent of the voting-age population cast a vote in at least one election.

Statistics Canada said it approached researchers to mull the reasons for the lack of turnout at election time. The opinions ranged from motivation to marginalization from mainstream politics to a lack of relevance.

Belong to a political party? Forget it. Today’s 18 to 30 years olds simply aren’t interested. Only five per cent of the 18 to 30 age group are card-carrying party members.

Much of this is the fault of the mainstream parties, who cater their message to the now-moneyed baby boomers wondering what future they face when they leave the workforce. This group on the verge of retirement is interested in the political process because they have certain expectations, such as health care being available when they need it. 

On the other hand, youth don’t feel the vulnerability of their parents and grandparents. Young adults have little concept for the need of universal health care in the event of catastrophic illness. 

Taxes also don’t seem to bother them. They may curse that their net take-home pay has been eroded by personal income taxes, but they’re more likely to shrug it off than comment about the need to oust some party from political power.

Rudyard Griffiths, executive director of the Dominion Institute, and Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative research Group, writing in the Globe and Mail, suggested that lowering the voting age to 16 from 18 may be the solution to getting young adults to vote. Apparently, Brazil has done this with great results.

Personally, I don’t think it matters “a byte” whether or not the voting age is lowered to 16. If 18 year olds aren’t voting now, what makes anyone think that 16 year olds will be any more willing to participate in the next election?

When I was young, I couldn’t wait to vote at 18. But, thinking back, it was the time when 18 year olds were given the vote for the first time. It was 1970s youth’s opportunity to finally get some respect from adults. Voting was also a novelty and as everyone knows novelties (fads) tend to have a short life span. I can remember many of my friends expressing the opinion they were going to vote, did and then said that was their first and last time. Perhaps in Brazil, the novelty factor has boosted the results for 16 year olds.

The real danger is that the habits of today’s young adults will carry on as they age. But, think about it. As they age, they’ll be forced to pay the massive taxes needed to support social programs for aging baby boomers. I’m willing to predict that early-youth biases would soon fall by the wayside, and the cry would arise, “Kick the bums out!” who dared to raise their taxes. Age has a tendency to darken the rose-coloured glasses of youth.

Get wired is my suggestion for arousing the voting interest of young adults. Blog it out in cyberspace rather than on the hustings. Place eye-catching ads on the Net. Spam the youth. Text-message them into consciousness. Webcast them into political knowledge.