Kids These Days


Remember back during the 2004 election, when the hot journalistic trick was to stick a mic in front of a group of 20-somethings and ask if they felt “alienated”? The Globe and Mail ran daily Alienated Voter updates, while the CBC gave tons of airtime to groups like the Edible Ballot Society, who advocated doing that very thing on the somewhat specious grounds that, “no matter who you vote for, you end up with a government.”

So whatever happened to these folks — did they get re-engaged? Did they decide that, with Gritlock giving way to Torylock, that voting actually mattered?

Nope. Turns out that kids these days are too apathetic to be alienated. Laura Drake has the details. 

Here’s her blog. 

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Kids These Days

  1. Are we talking about the same Millennials? I saw a guy speak about a conference, and he was all about how this generation has cast of the dark clothing and apathy of the 90s and embraced idealism and political action, as exemplified by…Barack Obama. They are on a repeat cycle from the generation of the 60s, when they were exemplified by…JFK.

    Maybe Canada’s different?

  2. “Millennials, the generation who makes up the youth voter demographic this election, grew up in a time where the role of the state was drastically reduced from the previous generation”

    Not sure what Drake is referring to here. The State grows every year, its tentacles going further and further into society, and it leads to voter apathy because they citizens are responsible for a lot less. The State makes all our decisions for us now and nothing changes regardless of who we vote for.

    I think participation in elections started to decrease in the late 1960’s, early ’70s, as the government slowly increased its power and reach.

  3. Apathetic? Dis-engaged? If voting is the only metric I guess she’s right. The problem is, voting is a pretty poor metric for determining how “engaged” someone is.

    Moreover, it can change in a heartbeat. Everybody said the same thing of US voters until Obama started increasing the number of young people who vote. Maybe the ballot eaters have a point – maybe the choices just don’t reflect their priorities.

    Obviously I don’t think this generation is disengaged completely. Instead, I think a journalist got lazy, went with an easy story and a latched on to tired narrative.

  4. But I don’t think Obama is any different. More charismatic, but proposing much the same policies.

  5. Love these “the youth of today are less engaged” stories. Only been seeing them for about 1,000 years.

  6. “Everybody said the same thing of US voters until Obama started increasing the number of young people who vote.”

    Huh? When did this happen?

  7. Davideaves wrote:

    “Apathetic? Dis-engaged? If voting is the only metric I guess she’s right. The problem is, voting is a pretty poor metric for determining how “engaged” someone is.”

    The story addressed this, albeit in passing, when quoting Brenda Oneil: “People who aren’t voting aren’t doing other things,”

    Anyone who looks at the data sees that people who are engaged in protesting, consumer advocacy and other so-called “non-traditional” forms of political engagement are also, on the whole, the same people who vote.

    Also, if you look at the data the university educated young vote in numbers as high as 70 per cent, compared to 40-45 per cent for all youth.

    So while the decline in voting over the past 20 years has come from the youth demographic, it comes from a very specific youth demographic, those with lower levels of education.

    While some attribute this to the critical skills one develops in university, that doesn’t necessarily account for it, since in past decades, university participation was much lower.

    But if you consider who are the most likely to vote: caucasian, affluent, middle-aged Canadians some of the answer is provided, as this is the demographic that is also most likely to have children in university.

    The dominion institute, in its survey relased earlier this week says those who discuss politics at home are as much as three times as likely to vote, suggesting that attitudes towards voting and politics are formed in one’s child and adolescent years.

    Still, youth are voting at about 10 points less than they did in the 1960s. This suggests either 1) all demographics were, on the whole, more interested in discussing politics back then or 2) the same group of young people who don’t vote today, those who grew up with little political knowledge, were voting back then.

    There is some evidence to suggest that it is the latter. One factor in declining voter turnout that has also been advanced by Brenda O’Neil, though not in this article, is the question of party identification.

    Party identification was much stronger in past decades, and parties themselves were more visible institutions. As party identification has waned, it leaves a segment of the population that are not only uninterested in participating, but no longer have a party to vote for without thinking about it.

  8. Carson – that’s nicely done. I’ve never liked the sort of response David Eaves gives, since it suggests that somehow it makes sense to engage in all sorts of political activity except voting, as if joining an NGO somehow made voting unnecessary.

    David Eaves: There is probably no narrative more tired than the one about the lazy journalist. It’s easy to accuse journalists of being lazy, but that’s hardly how this story came about. Basically what happened was this: I noticed that the “alienated youth vote” meme that was so predominant in 2004 and less so in 2006 had disappeared almost entirely. So I asked Laura to look into it.

    The initial results she got were really exciting, since it looked from the data like the youth vote numbers had been climbing steadily. We were working up a very nice “youth back in the game” story, until we checked and found that the numbers we were using weren’t compatible, and that once we used congruent measures it was clear that youth voting intentions were dropping steadily. It gave us no pleasure.

    So we rejigged the story, Laura made a few more calls and dug a bit more, and got the story that ended up in the paper. You might think the narrative is tired, and maybe it is. But it isn’t the narrative we went looking for, and it certainly isn’t the one that grabbed our initial fancy. But it is the one that seems closest to the truth.

    As for the ballot eaters being right, and the choice not reflecting the priorities of youth, I’ll repeat what I wrote in 2005 about alienated youth: If you can’t find a party to vote for in Canada, then you don’t believe in democracy.

  9. I read the article very quickly, but there wasn’t mention of one of the ballot eaters, Mike Hudema, who is hardly “apathetic”–he works for Greenpeace in Alberta and is doing a lot of work against development of the tar sands. No idea if he plans of voting though.

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