Cynicize youth and they won’t care to vote

Two independent stories this weekend seem to have a common thread.  First the Washington Post article “White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters” (Peter Baker, p. A2, 8/22/07) discussed the Bush Administration’s protest manual and their “art of ‘deterring public protests’ at Bush’s public appearances around the country.”  Then the NYT over the weekend, in an article on the lack of public U.S. conversation about lowering the voting age, discussed that youth are not eager to vote.  There might just be a connection between the cynical Bush politics of “control and spin” — the above Bush manual to control dissent at campaign events, the history of patent lies from Bush officials, manufactured news under the Bush Administration that looked like it was independently reported but was actually purchased through contracts with journalists — and voter apathy (especially among young voters that are hoping for a government they can respect).

The NY Times story (“Sixteen Candles, but Few Blazing a Trail to the Ballot Box” (Week in Review, Pam Belluck, 8/26/07) notes that around 1971 a bunch of countries lowered the voting age (as the U.S. did) to 18. “[N]ow a handful of other countries are opening their polls to even younger voters. Last month, Austria became the first country in the European Union to adopt 16 as the voting age for all elections, joining Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man. Germany allows voting at 16 in some local elections. In Slovenia, 16-year-olds with jobs can vote. And the new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, just proposed a youth commission that would advise whether to let 16-year-olds vote, hinting that he is in favor. ”  [The NYT notes that Iran may be the only counter-example, raising the voting age from 15 to 18 in January as a way to help immunize the government against student protests.]

“Critics might offer lots of reasons for the United States’ not following suit — a lack of competence, maturity and experience among 16-year-olds tend to be the ones cited, as well as the argument that they, like 18-year-olds, wouldn’t use their franchise much anyway.

“Still, the United States is not without proponents of a lower voting age. Nine states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the general election. And in recent years, various vote-at-16 proposals have been made by lawmakers in New York City, Baltimore, Minnesota, Texas, Maine and California, where a state senator in 2004 proposed giving 16-year-olds half a vote in state elections, and 14-year-olds a quarter-vote.

“None of those proposals have advanced very far. But with another war on — and 17-year-olds able to enlist — as well as children growing up so quickly that they have MySpace pages before losing their baby teeth, supporters say that adolescents not only are competent to cast ballots, but would focus old fogies’ attention on issues relevant to children: health care, education, the environment, perhaps even a moratorium on Lindsay Lohan’s changing hair color.”

These advocates hope adolescents get “bitten by a civic bug” and counteract the fact that 18-24 year olds are the least likely cohort to vote.

“That’s the hope of Gale Brewer, a New York City councilwoman who has sponsored several attempts to allow 16-year-olds to vote in municipal elections…..Phyllis Kahn, a Minnesota state representative, said, ‘If we trust them to drive at 16, why don’t we trust them to vote?” and added that ”an irresponsible driver can do much more harm than an irresponsible voter.’ ”

While brain size peaks in humans at age 14,  Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, said adolescents were not ”mature enough to make voting judgments because they don’t have any historical perspective and they don’t have any comparable civic responsibility.”

And the article cites Matthew Crenson, professor of political science at John Hopkins who notes that few 16-18 year olds voted in Maryland in 2003 when a ‘scheduling fluke’ enabled some of them to vote in the Batimore mayoral primary for the first and only time as confirmation of the low level of interest of youth in politics.

Washington Post article was White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters (Peter Baker, p. A2, 8/22/07) which discussed the protest manual and the “art of ‘deterring public protests’ at Bush’s public appearances around the country.”  A NY Times Editorial on this was called Squelching the Citizenry’s Back Talk (8/25/07).   

And Washington Post had an editorial on Bush’s manual called “Don’t Read This Mr. President!” (9/10/07)

Also see: Sixteen Candles, but Few Blazing a Trail to the Ballot Box (NYT Week in Review)


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