It is no secret that fewer and fewer Americans have voted in each recent election cycle. The most dramatic decline in voter participation has been among 18-24 year olds. Three decades ago, more than 50 percent of young Americans voted. I remember that reaching voting age was much more important to me than reaching driving age or drinking age. Today, the number is down to 32 percent.
When I wrote a column several months ago about the efforts to use popular culture to mobilize youth voters, several readers wrote to ask whether there was a point to getting people to vote just to be voting. The question is a complicated one. Clearly, if young people do not develop the habit of voting, if they do not see it as part of what they are expected to do as citizens, then the declines in voter participation will continue to grow with each new generation that turns 18.
Getting young people to vote is not an end in of itself, however, since democracy depends on having informed voters. Yet, there are many different ways for voters to get information and we need to consider whether voters of a different generation may require different mechanisms or languages for learning about civic life.
The Center for Social Media recently released a report identifying several hundred different groups which are working to help get young people more involved in the political process. Some follow traditional forms of political outreach, others are using various forms of popular culture to help engage a generation which gets more of its information from entertainment programs than from traditional news sources. All of them are using the web as a primary channel of communication.
Their report, Youth as E-Citizens:Engaging the Digital Generation, is an interesting overview of the range of different organizations which are out there and should be of interest both to folks who are or know someone in that age range and to citizens in general who care about the future of American democracy.