According to a new study released by
University assistant professor Nojin Kwak, the blight of young
voter apathy may be related to young American’s attraction to
late night television shows such as “The Late Show with David
Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Kwak’s conclusions are based on data the Youth Voting
Coalition collected through a phone survey. Kwak’s analysis
finds that voters between the ages of 18 and 24 tend to carry a
deep cynicism and mistrust regarding politics and politicians and
that late night television shows only contribute to this cynicism.
Although it is perhaps undeniable that young voters have a greater
propensity to be pessimistic about politics, the study fails to
effectively establish the link between cynicism and voter apathy.
In fact, the negativism displayed by young voters can be a positive
tool. This cynicism should be utilized by young voters and
addressed and compensated for by politicians.

Janna Hutz

A cynic is nothing but a dissatisfied idealist. Young voters are
a unique political demographic because their negative political
outlook stems from their adamant ideals and an unflinching vision
of how politics should be. Even though the habitually low turnout
of young voters has caused society to deride young voters as
apathetic, this common judgment cannot be applied to the cynical
young voters interested in late night political shows. Anyone
watching political parodies has, at some level, an interest in the
subjects satirized and thus cannot be apathetic toward them.
Instead, it is more likely that youth feel disenfranchised and
disgusted over the many blatant manipulations of our political
system. Thus, while these young voters may hold deep convictions,
they avoid the perceived corruption of the political process.
Fundamentally, cynicism indicates that young voters are not
apathetic because even a discouraged idealist has ideals, and is
hence, by definition, not apathetic.

As indicated by the study, many young voters are not apathetic,
but instead just not confronted by the mainstream political
dialogue. Young voters seek political information and the
comfortable, accessible world of late night television has become
their source. Kwak’s study follows a recent 2004 report
released by the Pew Research Center stating that television comedy
programs, such as the popular news spoof “The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart,” are a large source of political information for
young adults. This increase in politically charged popular media
has been dubbed “poli-tainment,” and its burgeoning
popularity shows that young adults are attempting to become more
politically enlightened.

Fortunately, it seems politicians are responding to this
increase in late night legitimacy by appearing on these late night
televisions shows. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his
gubernatorial candidacy on “The Tonight Show with Jay
Leno” and Bill Clinton played the saxophone on “The
Arsenio Hall Show” as well as appeared on “The Daily
Show with Jon Stewart.” It seems that poli-tainment has
become a credible venue for political discourse and politicians
should further take advantage of the engrossed youthful
audience.

Faced with pervasive cynicism, politicians and youth activists
should seek means through which the suppressed idealism of
politically cynical youth can be harnessed. While this may be
difficult in practice, addressing the root causes of cynicism, such
as mistrust of elected officials and disgust towards political
machinations and manipulations, could be fruitful. Since youth
voters care about the issues but are disaffected by the system,
efforts should be taken to convince this younger demographic that
they can work through the system to not only address the issues but
also the system itself. While young cynics sitting outside the
political arena might have a vision for the future, it is only by
bringing their ideas into the arena that their visions may be
fulfilled.

 

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