Teens take control in the polls

Michelle Butts and Varsha John, Lifestyle Editor and Copy Editor

It only takes one vote to change a nation.

“History is full of those instances where one vote changed everything,” said Regina Smyth, associate political science professor at Indiana University at Bloomington. “It’s not the age that matters, it’s the vote itself.”

Smyth, creator of IU’s senior seminar “Why Young People Don’t Vote,” said although young people are starting to have a higher voter turnout than prior elections, they are still voting in lower numbers than older adult voters.

According to a study conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), signs indicate that, in general, a candidate who can successfully mobilize the youth will have the best chance to be the next president.

“I think what some [young people] don’t realize is that they have a responsibility to become active and care,” said Smyth. “I’ve heard the excuse, ‘Oh, my vote won’t mean anything,’ but that’s simply not true. Look at Clinton or Obama. Their presidencies were very much dependent on securing the youth vote.”

With slightly over two weeks leading up to the Illinois Republican primary on March 20, Smyth encourages youth voters to start becoming involved with politics as early as possible. In a study conducted by the American Political Science Review, evidence suggests that voting at an earlier age leads to long term voting and a higher interest in politics.

“Youth tend to have a type of myopia about politics,” said Smyth. “They want to wait until they’re older to vote. Don’t wait until you’re 40 years old to say, ‘I’m ready to become politically involved,’ because by then, it might be too late.”

However, not all students have that nearsightedness towards politics. Senior Deniz Kahn is ready to become politically involved now.

“Of course I’m planning on voting,” said Kahn. “Not only for the presidential election but the primaries too. If you’re eligible to vote, it’s not only your right but it’s your responsibility to do so.”

Smyth attributes the youth’s lack of voting to ignorance and apathy towards the issues.

“There are issues that directly affect youth right now, policies that could change [their] everyday life,” said Smyth. “Policies on college tuition, gay rights, abortion, education, and the economy especially.”

Kahn said during this election, the economy is the issue that he has focused on the most. Particularly, he believes in cutting government spending to rein in the national debt.

Sophomore Kylie Vickery also focuses on the economy, but has a different view than Kahn on how to decrease the debt.

“I care about … taxes on the upper classes,” said Vickery. “The people who make the most money should pay higher taxes because they can afford to.”

An issue that Smyth urges youth voters to take a stance on is education.

“Education is a huge center of discussion, and one that has a clear impact on everyday teens,” said Smyth. “Some argue that the federal government has no right controlling education because it decreases state control. Some say that federal government needs to have more control over education to save the American education system. Teens need to decide which policy they shift towards.”

Rob Berg, AP United States Government teacher, agrees, emphasizing the need for teens to know exactly what they want when it comes to educational policy and reform.

“Some candidates are talking about making college more affordable through things like tax cuts for tuition or increasing the number of grants available for students with lower incomes to go to college,” Berg said.

When it comes to American high school education, Berg said most funding is done at the local level, but all candidates still make “vague promises” about improving standards.

Berg said though the issue of education is important, these “promises” are just populist rhetoric rather than part of a campaign platform.

One reason why young people do not vote is because “they don’t want to feel stupid,” especially when going more in depth in politics and thinking about things similar to political rhetoric. Although they might know about the presidential election, they do not  necessarily know about the state legislature, according to Berg.

His solution: educate yourself.

“Try to find out as much as you can about all of the candidates that you can vote for so that you can make good decisions,” Berg said.

According to Smyth, awareness of issues and policies is the first step to making an informed vote.

“When you’re socially conscious of the issues, you can decide your stance on the issue and vote for the best leader for you,” Smyth said.

According to Berg, voting sends a message to candidates.

“Whenever you vote you are saying to a candidate, ‘You can’t take me for granted,’” said Berg. “Groups that don’t vote are essentially saying, ‘You just do whatever you’re going to do and I’ll watch, I might complain about it, but I won’t do anything to stop it.’”

For the students who still choose not to vote, Kahn has only one suggestion.

“To those who don’t believe in voting, I can only advise them to move to another country,” Kahn said.

Vickery agrees that young adults should not take their right to vote for granted.

“If you don’t think your vote counts then we can go back to living under an extreme monarchy or dictatorship where one has no say in the government,” said Vickery. “You’ll be wishing you could vote and have a say. Lots of men and women died for your right to vote, so make it count.”