Students Yawn at Politics with Election a Year Away
A majority of Libertyville High School surveyed said they were not interested in politics.
All across the United States, potential voters are listening to presidential candidates and preparing themselves for the 2012 presidential election, which is less than a year away.
Usually, most students ignore national, state, or local politics. Students today are busy with academics and extracurricular activities; they do not have time to watch the news or read the numerous articles online and in newspapers that cover daily politics.
This is reflected in a survey of eight social studies classes at Libertyville High School. Based on 146 students from all grades and levels, 50 percent of students were disinterested in politics, 22 percent were somewhat disinterested, 17 percent were neutral, 8 percent were somewhat interested, and a mere 3 percent were interested. The students were asked to say how involved and interested they were in politics on a scale of one to five (one being disinterested and five being interested).
Students: Politics are Confusing
When asked why they are not more interested, students responded in a variety of ways: “It’s boring.” “I don’t have a say in politics; I can’t vote.” and “I’m not interested.” Underclassmen, however, stated that politics were confusing; that is the reason they are not interested.
“Politics is boring and is a waste of time, especially because I can’t vote,” said sophomore Mark Sutter.
The students who do follow politics replied that they watched the news on television occasionally, sometimes had discussions about politics at home, and read current articles online about “the big events that happened in the world,” according to freshman at Libertyville High School. Most students appear to be getting their political knowledge and opinions from their family, teachers, and fellow classmates.
Junior Duncan Millar was one of a few students who wrote down a five on the political interest survey.
“Even though we won’t be able to vote in the next presidential election, political involvement is still important because it will affect our future,” he said. “Students need to form opinions and participate in politics, maybe not to a huge extent if they aren’t interested, but they still should know what is going on.”
Interest in Politics Comes with Age
Some students feel political involvement depends on age. Once they have a say in politics is when it might matter more.
“Politics is something I should do because it’s stuff I should know; I mean, I’ll be able to vote soon,” senior Eric Villanueva said. Government teachers at Libertyville High School believe it is important for their students to understand the importance of being involved in government and politics.
“I want politics to matter. I want students to feel connected,” said government teacher Amy Holtsford.
Government teacher Diane Fischer wants her students to “gain an understanding of how representative democracy works with its strengths and weaknesses, and to realize their place within the process and accept their responsibilities as a member of a republic.”
Many students, however, do not have the news and government background that is expected from their teachers; they learn about politics in government class, but don’t see a good reason to become more involved. However, government teachers at Libertyville High School say hearing candidates’ platforms on current issues that prevail in the United States help students become more enthusiastic about political involvement.
Junior Dani Matheo believes that political involvement also depends on what influence students have at home, as well as at school.
“My family’s interest in politics is what first sparked my political involvement. Now my family and I watch the news often to follow the primaries together,” she said.
Youths’ Interest in Politics Slowly Rises
As the 2012 presidential election nears, there is more interest this year than last and there probably will be even more interest and involvement next year, according to Holtsford.
After the 2008 presidential election, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement confirmed that the youth-voter turnout rate rose to 51.1 percent, the third-highest rate ever among that group. Two million more young adults ages 18-24 voted in 2008 than in 2004, and that number is most likely to be just as high next year. Young people are starting to realize their role in government and politics.
Also, presidential candidates are using social media platforms to promote student involvement and to engage student voters. In the survey, some students mentioned that they keep up with politics through their Facebook newsfeed.
Fischer believes that “so many students aren’t interested because it takes a long time to get information about the issues and candidates to be fully informed, especially if students don’t start following from the beginning; politics can be confusing.”