How Can You Get Your Friends to Care About Politics?

The older generation is always complaining that the younger generation is apathetic about politics. In many ways, they are right. Young people today don’t vote, volunteer, and follow politics as much as they should. 2008, the year of Barack Obama, was supposedly also the year of youth participation. And yet, according to “Project Vote”, as of November 2008, fewer than half (49%) of the 3.7 million 18-year-old citizens were registered to vote, a rate 22 points lower than the general population. If that’s success, then that is dismal. That doesn’t mean this old cliché of youth apathy has ever been different (it hasn’t), but there is indeed a problem. How do we get young people more interested in politics?

The short answer is, we don’t. We can’t force people to be interested in something. Interests don’t work that way. And if we were to force a young person to read political stories every day, that “interest” wouldn’t be genuine.

And yet, the situation is far from hopeless. The secret is, you don’t have to force people to be interested in politics – they already are. They just don’t know it yet.

Whether it’s student debt because you’re a student or social security because you’re about to retire, politics is important to you because you live and participate in the polis. The key to getting students interested in politics isn’t forcing them to read about far away wars or complex economic problems. Rather, the solution is to help people realize that politics includes issues that are relevant to their current lives. It doesn’t matter who you are – there is some issue, some story, some debate that hits home for you. It might very well be the economic crisis. But it might also be freedom of speech in public schools. Whatever it is, once you’re keeping tabs on that issue, listening to that story, and engaging in that debate, your fate is sealed. You’re on the path to becoming a voter, a volunteer, and a politico.

That’s why we founded Party Hard Politics. In our view, the general public is failing to engage college students with the issues that affect us and the debates we find relevant. Teachers and professors try to force you to care about the matters they care about. Newspapers cater to their average audience – the average reader of The Huffington Post is 36, and for journalism that’s young. The average reader of The New York Times is even older. CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are all designed for a different generation. Of course, young people aren’t engaged – they haven’t seen what it is they should be engaged in.

At PartyHardPolitics.com, we figure if we let college students do the writing, they will write about what college students are interested in. We don’t censor our writers, or tell them what to write about. Some write about local candidates, others write about student voting rights. And yes, many write about Ron Paul. Still, our thesis is that students will read a political blog for students and by students. And, so far, we’ve been proven right.

Students know what students like, and, similar to PolicyMic in many ways, Party Hard Politics has proven this axiom. We need to promote substantive discourse in order to foster political and civic activism. PolicyMic’s unique model enables citizen writers to be promoted by their peers. At Party Hard Politics, we allow all well-spoken, academically oriented students to shift debate toward areas of their own interests. We’ve seen young writers participate in a plethora of political arenas. We’ve live tweeted political events such as The State of the Union address, Senator Joe Lieberman’s retirement speech, and the AIPAC conference. In fact, we’ll be live tweeting and live blogging the New Hampshire primary tonight!

We’ve had a surge of students interested in writing, going from three to twenty-five staffed writers without any advertising. We’re a small blog, and we know we’re only a drop in the bucket in terms of increasing youth interest in politics. Our solution is just one of a myriad of medicines necessary to address youth apathy towards the issues. But the problem is very real, and we firmly believe that as (what Harvard’s Robert Putnam called us) “the next greatest generation," we must strive to address it.

Photo Credit: Party Hard Politics