Youth Activism Today

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

The impact of young voters is a big wild card this election season. We head to Northern Illinois University for a look at the modern state of college activism.

The days of hippie protesting are behind us, but is youth activism dead, or just taking on a different form?

"I think people don't give us enough credit, because we may not be out there saying everything but I think a lot of people really are interested, they just maybe aren't as open about it," says NIU student Michelle Olson.
Another NIU student Tyler Rozboril counters, "I don't feel like it effects me, I don't feel like my vote really counts. I really just don't care who's president."

As in the 1960s, we're in the midst of a largely unpopular war and heading toward a watershed election.
But political science professor Matt Streb says today's issues aren't as personal for youth as the civil rights movement and Vietnam War.

"Both those issues effected young people on college campuses, in particular Vietnam, because you had a draft," says Professor Streb. "The two issues today, the Iraq war and the economy I don't think hit young people in the same way."

Streb says today's youth have far more entertainment options, making it easier to ignore political news.

"In the 1960s there was very little correlation between political knowledge and age. Today the older you are the more likely you are to know something about politics and it's simply because young people aren't going out to get news," says Streb.
"I really just kinda change the channel to like SportsCenter or something just because it's not even entertaining at all," says Rozboril.

But sometimes the same things that distract young voters can be used to draw them in. "Guitar Hero" has been traveling across the country pairing demonstrations of the video game with voter registration drives.

And there are other hopeful signs.
"Everyone's really excited from what I've been talking to. This has been a really energizing campaign," says Meagan Szydlowski, president of the NIU College Republicans.

The question is whether that excitement while carry to the polls.
Professor Streb believes more youth will vote in November, but it won't be a huge chunk of the voting population.
He says students often tell him they don't vote because they don't think candidates pay attention to them, while candidates can't afford to focus too much on a population that goes to the polls inconsistently.

Strebb says the fact that young people don't vote now does not mean they won't vote as adults. For instance, youth aren't generally as disturbed by the economy, because they don't own homes and their 401K's can bounce back.
But one troubling fact, Streb says young people today are less likely to see voting as a civic duty, which could signal they still won't vote down the road.

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