Apathy may not be the only reason that 18 to 30-year-olds stay away from the polls this Tuesday.
“George Bush is unintelligent and Al Gore seems like a cardboard cutout of a man with nothing new to offer,” said James Inciso, 19, of Moorestown, N.J.
“It’s sad that these people are the best the nation could come up with, but it speaks more to the shortcomings in the process than to any specific personal failings,” said Bruce McConnell, 30, of San Francisco.
Interviews with more than 50 young people across the country, done by graduate students in a News Reporting class at Temple, show about a third do not plan to vote. Regardless of whether they will cast a ballot, those surveyed exhibited dissatisfaction and frustration with the electoral process.
“There is too much politics in politics,” said Jonathan Schott, 26, of Charlotte, N.C. “The two-party system doesn’t work.”
“Candidates, regardless of political affiliation, will say whatever they think the public wants to hear,” said Laurence Cook, 28, of New York. “They distort the truth, present bogus facts and outright lie.”
Young people have either tuned into the campaigns and have been turned off, or have ignored it completely. Some say they are going to participate because they feel they should, but they’re not very excited about it.
“I don’t think (young voters) are satisfied with what their options are with the bipartisan system,” said Ann Smisek, 23, of Iowa City, Iowa.
Smisek is registered and plans to vote for Ralph Nader.
“I think they’re not satisfied with either one of those candidates. What they hear about is this big political process centered on two parties, and they’re not concerned with either one of those parties. They feel like they don’t have a choice,” Smisek said.
Heather DeRonck, 26, of Philadelphia, is also dissatisfied with the two major party candidates but plans to vote to make her voice heard. “We cannot expect to change the quality of candidates if we aren’t at least trying to make ourselves heard,” she said.
Cynicism, apathy, low motivation and ignorance of issues are core reasons why more young people won’t vote. Many of those interviewed said it’s all interrelated: Because politicians lie, they say, what difference can one individual make in the world of political deception?
A survey of 18 to 24-year-olds conducted with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that seven out of 10 young people said politicians are out of touch with their concerns and they believe the election will have a small impact on them personally.
“Candidates feel like they’re wasting their time in targeting issues that young people care about because young people don’t vote,” said Heidi Kotzian, 23, a former field director for the Elizabeth Dole campaign. She is now employed with a production company and political consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Kotzian said the only way young voters can have their issues addressed is by turning out at the polls.
However, many young adults maintain that their vote is a drop in the bucket and therefore, inconsequential. “What’s the point?” is their attitude toward following the debates, understanding the issues and registering.
“I don’t care about voting,” said John Helverson, 24, of Roxborough, Pa. My vote will make no difference in the election.”
MTV launched its Choose or Lose campaign to pull young voters into the polls. Its Web site encourages young adults to interact with each other about the upcoming election. A team of young reporters also tours the country, speaking to candidates and youth about voting.
“Throughout this election campaign,” said Dave Sirulnick, executive vice president for news and production at MTV, “we’ve seen that young adults today feel strongly about the issues they face as part of their daily lives, but do not necessarily feel the candidates are effectively addressing their concerns.”
“I know from statistics that my contribution, if I vote, will hover roughly over zero,” said Fred Shic, 26, of California. “I know, too, from political science, that such a view is an unhealthy view. But knowing isn’t enough.
“To make an informed decision requires a lot of leg work, and these days, how can you know?” he said. “You didn’t know in 1996 that the man who holds the greatest office in the country would make the United States the laughingstock of the world with hormones gone out of control. You didn’t know in 1968 the president would bribe, forge and perjure his way to the highest office. I certainly don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Kerri Coleman, Meridee Duddleston, Monalisa Gangopadhyay, Jonathan Goldberg, Jie Jiang, Ingrid Kristan, Charles Shearer, Veronica Wathome and Vivian Yang contributed to this article.