Youth Vote Enthusiasm in Election 2012 Plummeting: Time to Teach Civics in School Again

A recent poll by Pew has brought some shocking news: the number of youth registered to vote is drastically low this election year, as compared to 2008 — and this could impact the upcoming election in a significant way.

I believe that while this is not so significant in the short run, the trend is a reflection of broader societal patters of a disengaged youth, and if not corrected in time it can have serious implications for the American polity. I propose that a stronger sense of “community” may help build the lost social capital.

The Pew report points out:

"In all Pew Research Center polling conducted over the course of 2012, only half (50%) of adults under 30 say they are absolutely certain that they are registered. This compares with 61% in 2008 and 57% in 2004. Registration rates typically rise over the course of election years, but for youth voter registration to reach 2008 levels the figures will have to shift decidedly over the coming month."

It is also interesting in this context to note that the most recent Pew Research survey conducted Sept. 12-16, has shown that registered voters under 30 favored Obama over Romney by 59% to 33%, all the while the margin has held steady throughout the year. Why this drop in political engagement by youth?

While one cannot make generalizations about this over just one election period, there may be some truth to the argument made by Robert Putnam, who, in his seminal work Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, pointed out that the social capital in the U.S. has been declining since the 1960s, as a result of various factors including but not limited to disillusionment from politics, scandals, newer technologies and also greater “individualization” of our time, with internet and other technological innovations. This is not good for America as an informed and engaged citizenry is necessary for a democracy to thrive.

The quest for community is nascent in all of us as the traditional bonds of family and friends are being broken as a result of urbanization, modernization and increasing disconnectedness. While one can lament the loss of the familiar and blame technology and changing economic relations, the solution is also within reach.

It lies in forming a community of consciousness, and by compromising to work towards common solutions. The American political system is based on the system of checks and balances and is divided so that no branch of government has absolute power. This was done intentionally to ensure that there be compromise and give and take between the various levers of government.

I agree with Putnam in that civics education should be part of the solution, as we try to revive the lost sense of community and think of solutions towards common problems, without preconceived notions.

The relevant question we should ask, as he points out, is "how can I participate effectively in the public life of my community.” If more of us do this and encourage others to do, we may well be on our way to solving this problem of indifference and apathy. Policy makers, writers, thinkers and ordinary men and women need to reflect and engage with this question no matter what their situation or status.