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From the book Is voting for Young People, Martin Wattenberg has stated the fact that millennials in the United States are poorly engaged to politics. He summed up this conclusion by analysing surveys and polls, which has found three important causes including the decrease in newspaper readers, TV audiences and election voters. Martin Wattenberg focused on discussing the problem of so many young people do not vote in America. According to the Census Bureau’s 2010 survey data, only twenty four percent of United States citizens under age of thirty reported that they voted. He believes that media is one of the major ways for people to receive political messages.
However, young people nowadays are mostly addicted to smartphone and social media, in which become other ways for them to receive messages rather than from newspaper and TV programs. Therefore, Martin Wattenberg claims that the decrease of newspaper readers and TV audiences are the main reasons of why young people are politically apathetic, and thus, refused to vote. From my point of view, although political messages can also be shared upon social media, young people avoid knowing about it. I agree with what Martin Wattenberg said that young adult can potentially learn huge amount of politics from news website, but just very few of them are choosing to do so.
Even though newspaper and TV are also platforms that provide diversity of messages, political news are being reported every day in certain period of time. Yet, internet has infinite amount of information that is competing with political news, young people can easily pick information that is attractive to them and ignore the “boring” and “tedious” politics. Media is a crucial element in solving the problem of young people being politically apathetic. As mentioned above, social media has replaced newspaper and TV programs for the new generation to receive messages. Martin Wattenberg said that no matter you are educated or not, reading a daily newspaper and watching TV news are always the main ways for people to pick up knowledge about the political world.
However, I think it is almost impossible to ask people getting away from smartphone and rely on newspaper or TV nowadays. To compete with tremendous amount of information from the internet, politics has to be “fun” and “engaging” when it comes to the audiences. Rather than presenting political news with long paragraphs of words, political news should be more creative in its presentation. Taking my own experience as an example, I usually watch YouTube videos, which provide visual effect or animation, in explaining certain political topics when I found it hard to understand from texts. Some people might have found that political advertisement is annoying when it appears on TV or video we are watching, yet, we cannot deny its effectiveness to throw as much information as it can within a few seconds to the audience. With the advance of technology today, there are actually a lot of opportunities to promote politics than we expected.
Apart from what Martin Wattenberg claims about media in the book, I think the problem of young people being politically apathetic is also influenced by the older generation. Take Hong Kong as an example, there was a huge democratic protest held by young people to fight for universal suffrage in 2014, called the Umbrella Movement. I personally found it proud to see how active adolescents in Hong Kong are participating in politics. I understand that the new generation will gradually take over the society and everything in the country is politics driven, thus, it is a good practise for them to start caring society when they are still young. However, as part of the protesters, I have heard a lot of negative comments from the older generation that strongly discourage us from participating in politics. For instances, they think that participating in a protest in our age are just being rebellious, students should focus on academic work rather than politics, as well as discourage us by saying we can never change or improve the policy no matter what we did. In some extreme cases, a few of my friends are being grounded by their parents in order to stop them from the protest.
Martin Wattenberg said that young people can never start engaged to political event if they do not have basic understanding of what is the going on in the political world, and I agree with this statement. As part of the protester in the Umbrella Movement, people I have met in the protest are mostly students, who have studied Hong Kong history and liberal studies. On the other hand, newspaper reading response are part of the school syllabus. We read newspaper online at least three times a week. No matter we like it or not, the school forced us to do so. I do not think that this is a violation of individual rights, but I rather see it as an important part of education.
Martin Wattenberg discussed about compulsory voting, which I am personally supporting it. I think one of the reasons why young people are politically apathetic is because they do not know how and where to “get started” in participating political events. According to Pew Voting Frequency Survey, there are sixty two percent of unregistered citizens said that they are not informed to register, and six percent of people do not even know how to register. Registration seems to be another barrier for young people to vote. As part of the young adult group, the word “politics” always reminds us of “bored”, “annoying” and “none of my business.” Some of us also think that we are just small potatoes in a country, in which our votes are not valuable at all. In this case, we have even less motivation to find out how to register and gone through the process of registration to vote. If young people can skip the process of registration and forced to start voting once they reach the age 18, I think it would be an effective way to get them engaged to politics. From a long-term perspective, compulsory voting will gradually become a social culture in the United States that people will get used to it. It will change people perception that being an adult have to bare the responsibility to vote for the country rather than being forced to engage in politics. Therefore, I agree with what Martin Wattenberg said, “Sometimes it is best to force people to do what is good for them, even if it is construed as a violation of individual rights.”
In conclusion, I agree and support Martin Wattenberg’s claims in the book. I believe the problem he has stated are not just limited in the United States, but over the world. Country is a community formed by a huge group of people. Everyone and every problem is related to each other. I think young people should participate in politics as soon as possible, because it would be too late for them to pick up political issue when they recognize their real interest and face social problems in their adulthood.
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