The Participation of American and British Youth in Political Life of Their Countries.

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Essay in Cultural Studies

The Participation of American and British Youth in Political Life of
Their Countries.

Minsk 2008


1. Introduction

2. Political apathy among the youth

3. Participation in presidential and parliamentary elections

4. Conclusion

5. References


Politics is an integral part of our life. And it really doesn’t matter
whether you are a politician by profession or a plumber who is far from
world of politics. Actually you may not be interested in politics but
politics still will be interested in you. The fact is that every person
above 18 years old both in our country and in Great Britain and the USA
from the politician’s point of view is regarded as a voter, his
potential supporter. That’s why the participation of all the people of
the country is so essential and of great importance for politicians.

Unfortunately for them the latest public opinion polls showed political
apathy among the young people. The sociologists say that the youth is
simply not interested in political life of their country. The aim of my
work was to find out the reasons for such apathetic attitude. Besides
that I tried to compare the situation in Great Britain and the USA in
order to find out whether this tendency is general for all modern young

While working on this topic I’ve analysed the results of several public
opinion polls made in Britain and the USA, a lot of newspaper articles,
news articles on the web-sites of BBC and CNN and the comments of the
young people judging this problem.

I’ve found out that the situation is not so simple and not so definite
as it seemed to me in the very beginning.

Political apathy among the youth

During the election campaign politicians mobilize all their forces and
possibilities. They are really fighting for voters. According to the
constitutions of the USA, according to the British law as well, all
citizens of both sexes over 18 years of age have a right of voting. But
in reality not all the people exercise this lawful right. The surveys
show that the major part of those who don’t vote is the people from 18
to 25. That’s why it’s so important for politicians to provoke interest
to politics among the youth.

The recent research confirms political apathy or a sense of political
alienation among the young, it says that they are not interested in
politics, don’t want to participate in political life and don’t bother
about any political problems of their country. To modern youths,
politics and statesmanship are things best left to the generation ahead
or behind, or to professional politicians and the newspapers.

Conventional media wisdom insists young people are simply not interested
in politics. Popular images of youth — causing mayhem, lacking
discipline, escaping responsibilities — suggest young people are far too
busy to engage with politics.

One of the surveys analyzed the major interests and leisure activities
of today’s American youth. [1] These are the results:

99%: Television

98% Music

89% Computers

4%: Politics

Taking into consideration these facts we can’t but agree that the youth
don’t treat politics seriously. The lack of interest is rather obvious,
but it’s not as simple as it seems to be. The “apathetic youth of today”
headlines are a dominant media frame used to explain widespread
political disengagement and declining levels of voting.

Tony Breslin, head of the Citizenship Foundation which promotes
participation in British life, tried to comment on these results. He has
a different point of view than the above mentioned. He said the survey
dealt with one of the most frequent false assumptions about the young –
that they don’t care.

“We take this lack of interest in politics as a lack of interest in
society,” said Mr Breslin.

“But what we tend to find is that young people lack an interest in a
group of political institutions because they can’t see their relevance.

“Research shows there’s a real deficit in knowledge among the young of
the political system – but there’s a real interest in single issues.
This doesn’t always work through to traditional political channels.” [1]

Mr Breslin said government ambitions to reconnect youth to institutions
needed far more than the lip service of the past – but the recent
introduction of citizenship to the national curriculum was a good start.

You have to understand the system to be able to understand the news in
the first place. A person can find out a fair amount from what his
parents, but what about the people whose parents don’t understand it,
because their parents didn’t either?

The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme has published the results of its
nationwide survey of youth opinion to help find out what our future
adults do, say, think and want.

The results suggest there is a level of frustration among many of the
young and a degree of fear for their own security in a world where all
too often they are the ones blamed when things go wrong.

One of the major themes emerging from the research is frustration with
political institutions and authorities.

More than half recognised the way the country runs affects the quality
of their lives – but 68% believed the government does not listen to
young people.

Three quarters said it was difficult to make their views known.

Only half of those in the survey said they understood how the country is
run, the figure falling further among those from poorer backgrounds.

“You have to understand the system to be able to understand the news in
the first place. Perhaps a regular article or a tutorial-like website
with ‘beginners politics’ is what we need?” (Helen Hogg, 17, England)

“What we see among young people is that if they get involved locally in
an issue and if they are listened to and share in taking decisions, then
that sense of involvement grows from the local to the national,” said
Steve Sharp.

“But we have to remember that the government can’t tell people to be
more interested in politics, it doesn’t work that way.” [1]

Participation in presidential and parliamentary elections

If we want to find out the rate of activity of people in political life
of a country we can look at the number of voters who take part in
parliamentary and presidential elections. It will be the right indicator
of activity.

According to the British Election Survey, only 52% of the under 24s
voted at the 2001 General Election – some 2.2m people. [1] That came a
year after research warned the televising of Parliament was turning off
an entire generation of new voters.

In 2006 in the USA, 650 people aged 18-30 were surveyed. 80 percent said
they were registered to vote, but the pollsters think some of them were
lying. Mr. Goeas, a consultant with the Republican Tarrance Group
predicted that only 35 percent of those surveyed would actually vote.
Almost a quarter of the respondents have little to no interest in the
election, and a gender gap is evident, with men generally expressing
greater interest than women. [6]

Well, the figures speak by themselves.

Another indicator of political activity is the attitude of a person to
political parties, whether he attaches himself to any party or not and

There was a public opinion poll made in the Manchester and London area
the aim of which was to find out how the young people felt about party
politics. These are some of the comments:

“To be honest I’m not too bothered. I don’t keep up with developments at
Westminster [the site of UK government]. These days my job, my cash flow
and socialising are more important!”(Tom, 28, from Manchester)

“I can’t relate to any of the politicians. They all seem fairly similar
and rarely listen to young people.” (Fiona, 25, from London) [6]

Of course these two comments can’t represent the opinion of all the
youth, but unfortunately they represent the opinion of the majority of
both British and American youth.

“Young people today aren’t interested in politics because we think it
doesn’t affect us. In my opinion politicians don’t ask our views on
issues or consider our futures.” (Kate, 17, UK) [2]

“Young people lack an interest in a group of political institutions
because they can’t see their relevance” (Joseph, 20, UK) [1]

Of course it’s true that many young people take no notice of the
government or the countrys’ leaders, but I’d say that some find it
thought provoking and genuinely fascinating.

Well, in my opinion the above situation envisages us the problem of lack
of information. The majority of the young people have no idea how they
can make their suggestion and problems be heard. Though there is a
solution and some of the young people participate actively in resolving
some very topical for youth questions. For example, in the Midlands
there are loads of things that can help involve young people in politics
and help them voice their concerns. The Young People’s Parliament, based
at Millennium Point aims to get young people involved in politics. It
provides a meeting place where young people can discuss issues, which
affect the youth of Birmingham.

The YPP also works to bring more people into politics through projects
such as the Spirit of Birmingham II. This is a project aimed to give
school children the chance to debate ethical issues.

The YPP organises national and international events to allow young
people the chance to get involved in politics. Also new technology has
enabled the YPP to join a ‘global voice’ for young people from all over
the world. This means that young people here in the Midlands can
campaign along side people from all over the world.

This scheme has meant the young peoples concerns over homelessness,
drugs, bullying, transport and leisure can be discussed with politicians
or other decision makers. There is also the United Kingdoms Youth
Parliament (UKYP), which involves young people in politics.

The UKYP’s elections have just taken place to choose five Members of the
Youth Parliament (MYPs) to represent Birmingham. The MYP’s will now meet
with young people to find out their concerns before discussing with
campaigns they will be working on.

Once they have decided on this they have to produce a manifesto, which
will be presented to the regional MYP’s. After this a national manifesto
is produced which is presented to the Houses of Parliament.

This really involves young people in politics and it does mean that
politicians take our views seriously and listen to us. Last year’s
national manifesto received a 32 page response from parliament.

Unfortunately these programmes are not openly advertised which does
prevent some people getting involved. Politicians aim everything at the
older generation; even things that matter to young people are not
discussed with them. [2]

There is also the British Youth Council (BYC) which is led by young
people for young people, aged 26 and under, across the UK. This year BYC
is celebrating 60 years of empowering young people to have a say and be

The majority of studies suggest that the young people are just not
interested in politics but a closer study is more revealing. If we look
more attentively we’ll notice that the youth is not as disinterested as
the media says.

The point is that for many young people politics is not about
Westminster. Issues like the US-UK led Iraq war have sparked debate and
action in recent years. In 2003 over a million people marched through
London, many of them young and passionate.

Of course technology played a huge role in organising this protest on a
global scale. It has become a factor in providing many young people
across the world with a chance to interact and discuss without the
traditional middle-man of the politician or news media.

The British Council’s Cafe Society project allows young people from
countries across the world to meet in a relaxed, informal setting and
share opinions through video conferencing.

Besides that recently the launch of UK Politics YouTube channel was
made, and Gordon Brown had made a statement that politics and new media
should mix. A lot of young people support the idea that the politicians
would use new ways of communicating. The idea YouTube to promote
awareness and opinion on politics seems pretty good.

The concept is actually very encouraging. It’s supporting free speech
and pushes people to mould their own views and develop a standard of how
they want their country to be run. It is getting rid of the “not now,
I’ll do it later, I can’t be bothered” stigma that is attached to a lot
of things that need to be fulfilled in life (washing dishes, cleaning
bedrooms, election voting…) and getting young people to take an active
interest in wider issues than just Facebook notifications.

There is no doubt that the main political event in every country is the
presidential elections. Here I should say that the resent surveys
concerning the presidential elections in the USA show great interest of
American youth towards this event.

Young Americans are paying attention to the 2008 presidential race, and
many young people are even ready to help their preferred candidate
achieve victory, a poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics
(IOP) shows. [3]

Like the national average, voter turnout among young Americans has been
on the rise. From 2000 to 2004, turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds
increased 9 percent, more than double the overall turnout increase. In
the 2006 midterm elections, turnout in this age group was 3 percent
higher than in 2002, nearly double the national turnout increase. The
2006 election was the first increase in young voter turnout in a
nonpresidential election in 24 years.

Today polls indicate that youth turnout in 2008 could once again
increase. Polls show that young Americans are paying close attention to
both American politics and national and international affairs. A poll
conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in
March showed that 85 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are
interested in keeping up with national affairs.

Young Americans share many of the concerns of those in other

Young Americans are ready to help out in presidential elections
campaigns – more than a third said that if asked, they would volunteer
for a campaign. Even more are willing to if encouraged by a friend.
Sixty percent said they would spread the word about a candidate they
like by talking with friends and family.

In the Republican and Democratic parties of the USA, much of a
candidate’s volunteer base is made up of students “who have the time and
also the energy to do neighborhood walks and knock on doors and make
phone calls,” said Jordan Sekulow, who was 22 when he served as national
youth director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign. [4]

Working for a presidential campaign requires lots of time and energy,
something America’s young people have in abundance.

Campaign workers learn new skills on the job. Josh Alcorn, a regional
field director for Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign said he
learned much about time management and organizing. “People are going to
caucus for a candidate because they like the organizer. Being able to
sell them on yourself before you sell them on a candidate is crucial,”
he said. [4]

Working on a campaign is also an opportunity to build strong friendships
and meet new people across the country, Alcorn said. He said he built a
network of relationships that “are going to last a lifetime.”

More than half of the respondents said they would join a candidate’s
online group, such as a Facebook group. Candidates have been focusing
much of their efforts online, but as Harvard University junior Marina
Fisher said, students also like the more traditional methods of
promoting a candidate with lawn signs, bumper stickers and rallies.
“These seem like the oldest ways of engagement we can think of,” Fisher

“It is clear that while new media are emerging, the old ones are here to
stay,” she said. [3]

By the way I’ve found quite a fascinating fact – some of the young
people complain of lack of agitation information! This is true
especially for under-18th.

“We start voting at 18. And before that, do we not need to build a
political opinion on party views and on leaders? And whilst this is
happening, do we not need motivation to go out and physically vote for
who runs our country? And what are the leaders of Britain doing to
engage this potentially captive audience? Nothing to me, that’s for

“I turned 18 this summer (i.e., I am now legal to vote in elections) and
did I receive any information on voting or party propaganda? Not one
little leaflet. Instead, I have to rely on the ever-unbiased news and
material posted through my door, addressed to my Tory councillor
father—so any information I DO read is Conservative based. Are the
politicians reaching out to the kids? Well, I would say they are getting
better. Some consciously and some are naturals at reaching out.”

“Sometimes politicians shouldn’t try and be “in with the kids” —
wouldn’t this just ridicule their reputation amongst serious MP’s and
cabinet members? Perhaps there is a point where young people can be
included (without being patronised) and politicians can be taken
seriously amongst their peers. Getting a balance is difficult.”
(Jessica, 18, UK) [3]

Some of those “complaining” young people even suggested to start voting
at 16.

“We’re not taught about politics and it’s only when we turn 18 that the
politicians and society become interested in us, but is this right?”

“Most people argue that we shouldn’t be able to vote until we are 18
because we aren’t mature enough to make an uninfluenced decision until
then. However, if we were taught about it and were involved in it we
would have enough intelligence to make our own decision. After all,
who’s to say that at 18 we can make a completely independent decision?
We don’t suddenly turn 18 and understand politics, do we?”

“At 16 I can smoke, leave home, start work, join the armed forces, pay
tax and get married with my parent’s permission. At 17 I will be able to
learn to drive but it’s not until I’m 18 that I can vote for who I want
to be the Prime Minister. Is this fair?” (Kate Sutton,17) [2]

Of course it’s not only the politicians’ fault that the youth don’t
participate properly in politics (due to the lack of information,
propaganda, absence of proper political studies at schools and colleges
and whatever else). There are other factors which influence greatly on a
person – a family and media.

The word politician envisages an old, tired and worn-out individual but,
in general, we hardly think of youngsters as politicians. Many of us
regard politics as “quicksand” where if one gets in, will never be able
to come out. Due to this wrong notion, politics is definitely not one
among the diverse career options chosen by the youngsters. Many of us
portray youth as `cool, young and happening’ but we fail to realise the
potential and capacity of the young blood in reforming our age-old
politics. That’s why all the political information given by different
kinds of media is generally aimed at the adults.

“At the age of 39 I don’t blame young people for being apathetic about
politics. The only way to have any influence is to be selected as a
member of a focus group which exist only to provide politicians with key
words for their slogans. On the BBC’s Newsnight during the Tories’ last
conference, people struggled to tell apart soundbites from Ian Duncan
Smith and Tony Blair. I would be surprised if young people were NOT
apathetic.” (Martin Berridge, UK) [1]

As such, a prudent reason for the youth not entering politics is the
misrepresentation of the youth as `cool, young and happening’ and
entering into politics or even discussing it is considered as a waste of
time. A very less number actually possess a voter identification card
and even lesser number actually go to vote, all of which results in a
degraded majority and a wrong party on power. And then, with a frown on
their face, the same youngsters moan,” Our country will never change”.

If we observe from the societal point of view, the reason for lack of
interest in politics among the youngsters can be their parents and
elders. They feel that politics is not their cup of tea and that they
would rather want their sons and daughters to have a secure life. In
other words, they want their children to choose a career that has more
security and more potential, i.e. a good job with good money. Due to
this, many ebullient youngsters who have the real potential to change
the political scenario of the country sit in their air-conditioned
offices, doing a more “secure” job and deriding and despising the
politics of the country. Of course they disparage the politicians too.


Having analysed quite a lot of articles, comments of people of different
ages and social status, statistical data I have come to the conclusion
that the problem of youths’ participation in political life of a country
is very ambiguous. One the one hand the percentage of non-voters in the
USA and Great Britain is still high. I’ve singled out several major
reasons for young people’s lack of interest. They are:

1) considering politics boring and waste of time;

2) lack of knowledge about the political system of the country’;

3) the assurance of no relevance of the participation;

4) excessive influence of parents on their child’s political

On the other hand the rise of activity of the youth on the local level
is seen recently and the interest to the nation-wide and global problems
is fixated. These are good symptoms which indicate the recovery of the
British and American society.

Of course some forms of political participation in Britain and the USA
appear to be in crisis. Moreover, the way that the media and politicians
have responded to the apparent crisis of youth participation has become
a self-fulfilling prophecy. A full review of young people’s place in the
political environment is needed. This requires the application of
different criteria for evaluating youth interests, and the avoidance of
some of the most routinely used phrases to describe young people’s
attitudes to politics

The mediated portrayal of youth, politics and citizenship is critical to
the future of any democratic state. Frequently charged with being
dangerously apathetic, news media could look towards changing common
media representations of young citizens, and promote more active


1. Dominic Casciani / Youth wants interesting politics Mode of access:

Date of access: 9.11.2008

2. Kate Sutton / Apathy rules UK – unless it’s a war protest. Mode of

Date of access: 9.11.2008

3. Michelle Austein / Young Americans Paying Close Attention to
Presidential Race. Mode of access:

Date of access: 19.11.2008

4. Michelle Austein / Young People Play Key Roles in Presidential
Campaigns. Mode of access:

Date of access: 19.11.2008

5. Priyanka Rao / Gloomy scenario: The word politician envisages an old,
tired and worn-out individual. Mode of access:

Date of access: 9.11.2008

6. Sarah Wheaton / Political Youth. Mode of access:

Date of access: 19.11.2008

7. Stephen Cushion / Misrepresenting Youth: UK Media and Anti-Iraq War
Protesters. Mode of access:

Date of access: 19.11.2008

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