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The United States has fought wars to defend and spread democracy, yet today it faces a
new controversyit has the lowest voter turnout of any democratic nation. Why is this the case,
and is there anything young adults could do to increase the numbers for the future? These were
the questions I faced when declaring my social issue of political apathy for my QUEST project,
which I selected because of my own interest in government and politics. I completed an
experience project that included interviews with professionals and analysis of mock legislation
written by high school students to better understand the current state of the conflict. I created a
service project that I felt would best remedy my cause, working for a new candidate for the
House of Representatives in the United States Congress because new candidates lack the
financial advantages that incumbents of office hold and are often forced to opt towards
mobilizing citizens classified as unlikely to vote. I also performed extensive research through
and through again to better explore and search for an answer to my essential question: what are
the underlying factors of a lack of political participation in young adults, and how does low voter
turnout undermine the American system of democracy?
I will begin my answer by first exploring the American system of representative
democracy itself, and why a lack of political involvement can be detrimental to its function. The
government system in the United States strives to best represent and protect the interests of its
people. It does this by splitting its central government into three branches with an elaborate
system of checks and balances to prevent a select group of individuals sitting on Capitol Hill
from gaining too much power. In preventing the tyranny of an over-powerful central
government, the United States reserves the rest of the power to the people, who make their
voices and opinions heard through petitioning, assembling and most importantly, voting. It
becomes extremely evident that if citizens do not vote, they undermine the entire purpose of a
representative democracy. The article The Dangers of Political Apathy originally published in
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The Spectator in 1891 explains that political apathy is dangerous because it allows a single
candidate or party to control certain areas and stops citizens from voting on certain issues, which
screws with the representation of the citizens ideas in government (The Dangers of Political
Apathy). Yes, it is impossible to expect each and every citizen to cast a vote on Election Day,
and so a representative democracy can only hope for is that the votes cast and not cast are
proportional in interests to the actual population. That however, is exactly where the problem in
the United States lies. In a newspaper article Fighting Turnout Burnout, Richard Freeman
explains, if voting were unrelated to age, income, education, and other measures of
socioeconomic status, low turnout would not affect how representative our democracy is. But
advantaged groups in America vote in large numbers while those from more disadvantaged
groups don't. This is truer today than ever before (Freeman). Through this continuous trend, the
conflict has only been embedded deeper into American society as entire groups of individuals
become classified as unlikely to vote. The groups classified as unlikely to vote include the less
educated, the immigrants, the citizens of lower socioeconomic class, and unfortunately, young
adults aged 18-24. When I spoke with Dr. Joseph Kahne of Mills College on the issue, he told
me politics, especially the stuff broadcasted on the news, simply isnt targeted toward young
adults anymore (Kahne 2014). Politicians and the media stop trying to reach out to these
individuals, and representative altogether fails to represent entire groups of Americans.
One of the largest fields to explore contributing to a lack of political involvement in
young adults is the educational aspect. My consultant Jeff Harris, CEO of the Junior Statesmen
of America, told me in a personal interview, we make it difficult for kids to like politics because
of the way our education system is set up (Harris 2014). He went on to explain that in school,
students are taught about representative democracy in the United States and how each and
everyone of our voices is important, but are promptly disenfranchised in every way possible by
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the schools in the form of detentions from speaking out or their inability to incite genuine change
through their words and actions. It simply is not the ideal environment for developing and
nurturing interests in government and politics and encouraging political involvement. He also
noted the direct correlation between education and voter turnout. According to a survey
conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012, fifty-five percent of nonvoters do not have a
college education ("Nonvoters: Who They Are, What They Think"). Likewise, according to the
Center of Civic Education, thirty-one out of fifty states do not require civic education for high
school students (Branson). This lack of civic education was definitely a notable while I was
analyzing mock legislation written by high school students for my experience project. I found
that students were incapable of foreshadowing the negative effects of imposing extra taxes on
citizens who did not vote as well as incapable of demonstrating a basic knowledge of the three
branches of government. These observations defining a lack of civic education are concerning, as
they make evident the inability of young adults to understand the negative effects of their own
political apathy.
The United States government does little to remedy the situation. Other sovereign
democratic bodies like Puerto Rico make election days national holidays, thereby encouraging
citizens to vote by creating a nationalistic pride associated with it, while election days in the
United States take place on workdays, where Americans have to wait in long lines before and
during work hours. That is why when surveyed, a large portion of Americans stated that they
were too busy, either with work or with college. But specifically focused towards young adults, a
survey conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and
Engagement reveals that, college students are much more likely to cite being out of town or
away from home as the reason they didnt vote. That make sense: they tend to live away (Why
Young People Dont Vote). College students often cannot vote because of federal laws
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requiring them to register to vote under their home address with their parents. This,
unfortunately, was exactly what I observed in the service portion of my QUEST project, as I was
phone banking for Ro Khannas campaign for Congress. Many of the phone numbers on my
phone bank list belonged to individuals aged 18-24, and I found almost every one of their parents
answering the phone and telling me their son or daughter was away at college, either out of state
or far enough away in-state that her or she would be unable to return home for on election day.
This was particularly frustrating to me, because young adults are already classified as unlikely to
vote. Federal laws only served to alienate political campaigns run by incumbents of office, and
undermined a large factor in why I created my service plan the way I chose to.
Due to the misrepresentation stemming from poor voter turnout that has already been
occurred in the United States, many citizens have developed a general feeling of frustration in
our nations leaders. According to an article on USATODAY.com, Curtis Gans feels that
millions of voters refrained from voting in the 2012 re-election of Obama because of a lot of
lack of trust in our leaders, a lack of positive feelings about political institutions, a lack of quality
education for large segments of the public, a lack of civic education, the fragmenting effects of
waves of communications technology, the cynicism of the coverage of politics (Page). Citizens
refrain from voting, they are misrepresented in their communities and in Congress, they grow
frustrated and continue to refrain from voting. It is a cycle that leads into itself.
Throughout my research, experience and service, I was able to explore, understand and
come to a conclusion about my social issue of political apathy. My essential question, what are
the underlying factors behind a lack of political involvement in young adults, and how does low
voter turnout undermine the American system of democracy, is a multifaceted question with a
multifaceted answer.
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Ill begin the conclusion to my essential question by addressing its first portion: the
underlying factors behind a lack of political involvement in young adults. There are multiple
reasons, some that individuals have no control over, such as the educational system in which
young adults transition out of. Though there are government and history classes, which
constantly remind us of our right and our duty of voting, they all, for the most part, fail to capture
the interest of students transitioning into young adults and fail to show us of why voting is such a
fundamental right. Thirty-one out of fifty states do not require civic education for high school
students. This lack of civic education and lack of education on current events as well as
government policy bars young adults from understanding the nature of the problems in our local
and national governments and bars us from trying to problem solve and become involved in
order to make a difference. However, most of the underlying factors behind a lack of political
involvement in young adults can and should be remedied through simply casting a vote. It is
because of their own frustration with the current state of government and politics that they do not
get involved. The media becomes aware of this disinterest and stops broadcasting trying to
broadcast programs targeted towards capturing the attention and interests of young adults.
This lack of involvement in government and politics and poor voter turnout directly
undermines the definition of representative democracy that we have in the United States. Most
voters are now of a similar age group, similar race and similar socio-economic status, which is
fails to represent the needs of all other citizens. Research foundations take hold of these
statistics, release them to the media, and ultimately drive broadcasted politics and campaigns to
target only those most likely to vote instead of those who are underrepresented. Citizens unlikely
to vote continue to mull in their dissatisfaction with the government, but instead of getting
involved in campaigns or voting, choose to stay home on election days.
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From observing my own findings as well as my classmates findings throughout the
QUEST project, Ive discovered that all social issues are extremely multifaceted and require
extensive research and critical thinking to remedy. But specifically through my own QUEST
project, I was able to explore a topic that interested me through research, observation and
servicea combination that I had not yet experienced in high school. I was forced to think
critically and in new perspectives in order to synthesize the best solution I could take part in for
remedying the social issue, and was even lucky enough to find the exact service I had hoped for.
However, the most important thing that I have experienced and seen for myself, as well as the
most obvious, is that I am only an individual incapable of making dramatic change. The actions
of an individual in his or her microcosm can only drive a purpose towards so far. It takes the
effort of each individual, making his or her own limited contributions, to attain true change.

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Works Cited
Branson, Margaret S. "The Importance of Promoting Civic Education." The Importance of
Promoting Civic Education. Jordanian Center for Civic Education, 31 Jan. 2003. Web. 21
Oct. 2013. <http://jcces.org/MargaretBranson.htm>.
Freeman, Richard B. "Fighting Turnout Burnout." American Prospect. 1 jun. 2004: A16. Web. 3
Mar. 2014. <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.
Harris, Jeff. Personal Interview. 26 November 2013.
Kahne, Joseph. Personal Interview. 19 January 2014.
"Nonvoters: Who They Are, What They Think." Pew Research Center for the People and the
Press RSS. Pew Research Center, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.
Page, Susan. "Why 90 Million Americans Won't Vote in November." USATODAY.COM. USA
TODAY, 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
<http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/politics/story/2012-08-15/non-voters-obama-
romney/57055184/1>.
"The Dangers of Political Apathy." The Spectator Archive. The Spectator (1828), 22 Aug. 1891.
Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/22nd-august-1891/9/the-
dangers-of-political-apathy>.
"Why Young People Don't Vote." CIRCLE. CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research
on Civic Learning and Engagement), 13 May 2011. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.
<http://www.civicyouth.org/why-young-people-dont-vote/>.