The Participation of American and British Youth in Political Life of Their Countries


Politics is an integral part of our life. And it really doesn’t matter whether you are a politician by profession or a plumber who is far from world of politics. Actually you may not be interested in politics but politics still will be interested in you. The fact is that every person above 18 years old both in our country and in Great Britain and the USA from the polit

ician’s point of view is regarded as a voter, his potential supporter. That’s why the participation of all the people of the country is so essential and of great importance for politicians.

Unfortunately for them the latest public opinion polls showed political apathy among the young people. The sociologists say that the youth is simply not interested in political life of their country. The aim of my work was to find out the reasons for such apathetic attitude. Besides that I tried to compare the situation in Great Britain and the USA in order to find out whether this tendency is general for all modern young people.

While working on this topic I’ve analysed the results of several public opinion polls made in Britain and the USA, a lot of newspaper articles, news articles on the web-sites of BBC and CNN and the comments of the young people judging this problem.

I’ve found out that the situation is not so simple and not so definite as it seemed to me in the very beginning.

Political apathy among the youth

During the election campaign politicians mobilize all their forces and possibilities. They are really fighting for voters. According to the constitutions of the USA, according to the British law as well, all citizens of both sexes over 18 years of age have a right of voting. But in reality not all the people exercise this lawful right. The surveys show that the major part of those who don’t vote is the people from 18 to 25. That’s why it’s so important for politicians to provoke interest to politics among the youth.

The recent research confirms political apathy or a sense of political alienation among the young, it says that they are not interested in politics, don’t want to participate in political life and don't bother about any political problems of their country. To modern youths, politics and statesmanship are things best left to the generation ahead or behind, or to professional politicians and the newspapers.

Conventional media wisdom insists young people are simply not interested in politics. Popular images of youth — causing mayhem, lacking discipline, escaping responsibilities — suggest young people are far too busy to engage with politics.

One of the surveys analyzed the major interests and leisure activities of today’s American youth. [1] These are the results:

99%: Television

98% Music

89% Computers

4%: Politics

Taking into consideration these facts we can’t but agree that the youth don’t treat politics seriously. The lack of interest is rather obvious, but it’s not as simple as it seems to be. The "apathetic youth of today" headlines are a dominant media frame used to explain widespread political disengagement and declining levels of voting.

Tony Breslin, head of the Citizenship Foundation which promotes participation in British life, tried to comment on these results. He has a different point of view than the above mentioned. He said the survey dealt with one of the most frequent false assumptions about the young - that they don't care.

"We take this lack of interest in politics as a lack of interest in society," said Mr Breslin.

"But what we tend to find is that young people lack an interest in a group of political institutions because they can't see their relevance.

"Research shows there's a real deficit in knowledge among the young of the political system - but there's a real interest in single issues. This doesn't always work through to traditional political channels." [1]

Mr Breslin said government ambitions to reconnect youth to institutions needed far more than the lip service of the past - but the recent introduction of citizenship to the national curriculum was a good start.

You have to understand the system to be able to understand the news in the first place. A person can find out a fair amount from what his parents, but what about the people whose parents don't understand it, because their parents didn't either?

The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme has published the results of its nationwide survey of youth opinion to help find out what our future adults do, say, think and want.

The results suggest there is a level of frustration among many of the young and a degree of fear for their own security in a world where all too often they are the ones blamed when things go wrong.

One of the major themes emerging from the research is frustration with political institutions and authorities.

More than half recognised the way the country runs affects the quality of their lives - but 68% believed the government does not listen to young people.

Three quarters said it was difficult to make their views known.

Only half of those in the survey said they understood how the country is run, the figure falling further among those from poorer backgrounds.

“You have to understand the system to be able to understand the news in the first place. Perhaps a regular article or a tutorial-like website with 'beginners politics' is what we need?” (Helen Hogg, 17, England) [1]

"What we see among young people is that if they get involved locally in an issue and if they are listened to and share in taking decisions, then that sense of involvement grows from the local to the national," said Steve Sharp.

"But we have to remember that the government can't tell people to be more interested in politics, it doesn't work that way." [1]

Participation in presidential and parliamentary elections

If we want to find out the rate of activity of people in political life of a country we can look at the number of voters who take part in parliamentary and presidential elections. It will be the right indicator of activity.

According to the British Election Survey, only 52% of the under 24s voted at the 2001 General Election - some 2.2m people. [1] That came a year after research warned the televising of Parliament was turning off an entire generation of new voters.

In 2006 in the USA, 650 people aged 18-30 were surveyed. 80 percent said they were registered to vote, but the pollsters think some of them were lying. Mr. Goeas, a consultant with the Republican Tarrance Group predicted that only 35 percent of those surveyed would actually vote. Almost a quarter of the respondents have little to no interest in the election, and a gender gap is evident, with men generally expressing greater interest than women. [6]

Well, the figures speak by themselves.

Another indicator of political activity is the attitude of a person to political parties, whether he attaches himself to any party or not and why.

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