Why Young People Support Grassroots Politics

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times addressing the potential dangers of Republican fiscal policies, Paul Krugman proposed that, “In a better world, politicians would talk to voters as if they were adults.” While his piece was focused on the narrow-mindedness of Republicans, his postulation regarding politicians' condescending tone to their constituencies arguably applies to politicians of all parties, at every level of American politics. The job of a politician is to represent his or her constituency and to get reelected for doing so. In the eyes of American young adults, many politicians oversimplify or misrepresent information to their constituencies because of the conflict of interest between their two jobs: representing and serving a constituency and winning elections by getting votes.

In an age of media spin and high levels of cynicism, American youth and young adults do not regularly expect the politicians who are tasked with representing them to be honest, speak to them like adults, or be willing to admit failures or missteps. This political opacity and dishonesty is a significant factor in young adults’ feelings of distrust toward conventional politics and politicians, and the increasing appeal of community activists and leaders of grassroots movements.

Young adults are not without reason for being skeptical of conventional politicians. Today’s 20-somethings grew up and came of age in an era of high levels of political dishonesty. From the Clinton sex scandal to the Bush v. Gore hanging chad conspiracy, young Americans have experience with dishonesty. Young adults have suffered through eight years of the Bush administration’s regular demonstrations of what could only be interpreted as dishonesty and extreme incompetence. The misinformation about weapons of mass destruction in one of the administration’s wars have left American youth, in many cases, fed up with having their tax dollars wasted and their intelligence insulted.

The resulting leadership vacuum in the minds of young people has opened them up to the power and influence of grassroots movements and unconventional leadership paradigms.

Globally and domestically, many young Americans support grassroots movements and alternative leadership structures. From the young Americans involved in the various gay marriage movements across the United States, to the conservative youth in the Tea Party, to the overwhelming support for the recent protests for regime change in Egypt, the young adults of this country are increasingly placing their faith in and their support behind grassroots movements and the alternative leadership they spawn. Much of the support for these leaders comes from their lack of obligation to party affiliation or reelection campaigning, making them considered less likely to spin or withhold information. Grassroots movements are seen by young adults as more trustworthy because of their populist origins, making them political movements of the future.

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