A challenging problem that is facing the United States today is the low voter turnout of young adults. As time has one on the voter turnout has decreased ever so slightly for this age group and many scholars are proposing ways to alleviate this problem. Martin P. Wattenberg’s book Is Voting For Young People? He explores the problem of low voter turnout for youths and he proposes certain solutions to parts of the problem. The book is broken up into eight chapters of discussion around parts of the problem and a final chapter regarding some solutions and his opinion on the best solution. Wattenberg constantly uses statistics from survey and studies to support his arguments and to better his explanation of the topics.
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In the first chapter of the book Wattenberg discusses the newspaper as it is today and how it has fared throughout time. His biggest argument for the newspaper to other forms of news is that the newspaper is the best way to get the most amount of informations regarding a political matter. He specifically mentions CNN as an inferior source of news since you can only get a headlines worth amount of news from this source. Then he quotes a survey conducted by the Survey Research Center to answer whether or not people of different ages read newspapers for political content? He then finds the correlation between age and level of correlation to political stories to be .03 (16). Furthermore Wattenberg compares this finding with other countries such as Germany, France, and Italy and finds little to no deviation from the evidence from the United States. Finally, he concludes by stating that newspaper may make a successful transition to the Internet with online newspapers since young adults are more likely to read a newspaper digitally.
Wattenberg’s argument about newspapers being a better source for political news is true; however, he fails to mention the limitations of other media outlets. Television is not able to cover as much news as a newspaper can since they have a limited amount of time that they are allowed to air, while the newspaper has much more room to delve deep into a story. The survey that is quoted is not surprising since young adults do not mind reading newspaper for their news. The reason young adults do not read newspapers is because their other options are much more convenient. If we compare a physical newspaper to the CNN app on smartphone. The advantages of the app is that there is no paper wasted, the news is instant, and it is much more convenient considering the amount of time young adults spend on a smartphone. His findings that there is not much difference between the United States and other countries in terms of young people reading books is not surprising. It is not as if newspapers are all that different in other countries. Wattenberg’s conclusion that newspaper may find a second life online is true; however, these newspaper may find trouble competing with other companies that have already established a strong online presence.
In the second chapter of his book Wattenberg begins by discussing the effect that Television has on the american public. He cites a study conducted by Shanto Iyengar and Donald Kinder about the effect television has on the public. Basically they found that television networks could direct the attention of the public by showing certain stories about topics more than others (31). Then he continues by discussing the evolution of broadcasting and narrowcasting and its effect on television Next, Wattenberg discusses the decay of confidence in news anchors and the aging audience that still views these national networks. In this section he also mentions the limits of network television. Wattenberg continues by discussing the aspect of television that is choice. Furthermore, he compares the United states with other countries and finds that generally older people are more likely to tune into televised news in these countries also. Finally, he concludes the chapter by suggesting that soft news may be a good way to for the network producers to reach the younger audience.
Wattenberg starts the chapter by discussing the effect that television has on its viewers. The study by Iyengar and Kinder is interesting since the news would then have a very large impact on our politics. The news can basically, if it wanted to, show the public only the negatives of an event and none of the positives and effectively change the public’s opinion through exposure. Wattenberg also states that with television networks growing in number narrowcasting has become more common. The reason that older people do not channel surf as much as younger people is that in their younger years they do not possess much of a choice with respect to television. So, they became attached to the few networks that were available and continue to show loyalty to these networks today. Younger people today have a wide selection of networks and are still perhaps making their attachment to networks so they switch between channels to only get what they want from each channel. Also since younger people have the choice to avoid political news, they will only tune itno news that is interesting to them. As soon as they lose interest they have a multitude of other options in terms of entertainment. Wattenberg finished the chapter by supporting the use of soft news to deliver news. The problem with this method is that the choice between stories is motivated by how interesting. An important but not so interesting story will be chosen over an interesting but not important story since networks are driven by profit. Since viewers equal profit then the amount of viewers will always take priority over informing the public.
Wattenberg starts the next chapter with challenging the phrase “Don’t ask anyone over 30” by stating that the reverse is true due to the current generation not following political news as much. Then, he quotes studies performed throughout the years regarding political awareness. He states that during the broadcast era, young people were more likely to know about political events compared to elders; however, this trend is reversed after this era. He continues in the next section by suggesting that young adults follow entertainment just as much as elderly people follow political news. Wattenberg then states that young people are missing out on many important news events because of this. Then, he quotes the National Election Studies to show that the gap of political knowledge between the young and old has increased with time. Furthermore Wattenberg continues the trend of comparing our country to others and finds that while there are some countries that differ from us, generally other democratic countries suffer from the same problem. Finally, he concludes with the dangers of a politically ignorant society.
Wattenberg mentions that our political knowledge gap between the young and old has increased and this is true. During elections nowadays politicians have shifted their campaign to focus on the elderly since they are the most politically active. The elderly are the most politically active since they possess the most political knowledge. Wattenberg quotes a book by Delli Carpini and Keeter that suggested the rising education levels have been essentially canceled out by the decreased political knowledge (71). It is interesting that even though more Americans are receiving a better education the shift towards entertainment has made it pointless. Wattenberg states that young people are missing out on important events nowadays; however, he fails to mention the struggle that young adults face in consuming media. Most young adults are usually busy throughout the day, so this does not allow much room for news. This causes only the biggest news to reach them.
Wattenberg starts his fourth chapter by stating the reasons why people who do not possess political knowledge so not vote. Then, he continues with statistics supporting his view that young people as time moves on vote less and less. Furthermore he argues that even other democratic countries are having trouble getting young people to vote. Wattenberg then continues by stating that voter turnout for young people in second-order elections is even lower. He continues by comparing the second-order elections of other countries compared to ours. Finally, he concludes with the suggestion that the lower voter turnout was not caused by the lowering of voting age, rather it has been caused by a lack of political knowledge.
Wattenberg’s reasons for people lacking political knowledge not voting holds up. The last two reasons, having an interest in the issues and knowing what the election means, have been shown during the most recent election. Many non voters have stated that the reason why they did not vote was that they did not care enough to choose between the two candidates. If they knew how crucial the election is to their lives they would have voted; however, these people believe that it will not affect them all that much. In table 4.4, you can clearly see the disparity between the primary and second-order elections with respect to voter turnout between young and old people. For the Alaskan 200 primary the oldest/youngest ratio hit 5.0 to 1 (104). Five times as much elderly people voted compared to young adults. The smaller population of elderly people would then have five times the power in their state compared to the young people just from voter turnout. While Wattenberg argues that lowering the voting age was not responsible for the dips in voter turnouts, an argument can be made that the lower voting age allowed for more people who were less educated to vote. Since 18 is the average age that a student graduates from high school then those 18 year old voters would only have access to a high school degree amount of education and would therefore be unprepared to vote.
In the fifth chapter of this book Wattenberg begins by discussing the matter of voting as a civic duty and he mentions a personal experience that changed his view on voting. Then, he states that young people today are less likely to see voting as a civic duty compared to past generations. Furthermore Wattenberg continues to show how our country compares to other countries. Finally, he concludes that young people need to be shown the impact of their vote and what they are giving up when they decide not to vote.
During the chapter Wattenberg uses statistics such as table 5.3 which shows how young people in the past were more likely to see voting as a civic duty, while in recent times the opposite is true (125). Wattenberg mentions at the end of the chapter his view on the effect of non voting. In his perspective the person not voting is giving up their power to people with different interests. This is partly true. While not voting gives the other people your power, it also increases their voice. The less people voting the more valuable each vote becomes. So not only are they giving power to other people, they are also creating a misrepresentation of the public.
To start the sixth chapter of his book Wattenberg discusses the problem with low voter turnout rates. Then he discusses how a person age will affect their political ideologies. Furthermore Wattenberg continues by stating that young voter are more likely to want change in regard to the political party system. Next, he compare sour country to others again. Finally, Wattenberg concludes that if voter turnout does not change then the United States will become a nation that is for the older generation instead of for all.
The problem that Wattenberg discussed during the beginning of the chapter is very real since a democracy can not function effectively if only part of the population is voicing their opinion. This low voter turnout does compromise our democratic system. Wattenberg suggests that policy positions are affected by age. He supports this argument with the study showed in table 6.1 which shows that at different stages of life people are considering different topics (135). An example he uses is that during your young adulthood you might be just starting your career and lean more liberally. Furthermore if you are in your forties then you should be more established in your career and thus lean more conservatively. Wattenberg’s assumptions that if voter turnout does not change then our country will become for the older generation instead of for everyone is true. During the most recent presidential election the results were very close. If more young people voted during that election, then we would probably have a different president right now. However, the older generation was more active and was heard more clearly.
Wattenberg starts his seventh chapter by discussing the shift from simply voting to more active political activities that youths seem to be more interested. Then he continues by stating that young adults are volunteering more than ever. Furthermore he continues by stating that even though today’s youth is volunteering more that this does not translate into more political engagement however. Wattenberg then states that young adults are now turning to other forms of political engagement such as protests or boycotts. Finally he concludes that even though young adults are volunteering more often, the elderly are also experiencing the same change.
Watenberg mentions that young adults today are participating in more active form of political participation and this evident with the present news. Many young adults have experienced the success of Martin Luther King Jr’s method and want to use the same method. It has proven to be successful since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970’s granted African-American equal civil rights. He also mentions that the age range from 15-18 may be experiencing the increase in voluntarism because of students wanting to build their resumes for college applications. This does account for the unexpected increase in voluntarism science college applications have now become more focused on whether the student is well rounded and can manage their time. Wattenberg uses the figure 7.1 to show the increase of high school seniors volunteering (154). The is the most crucial time for high school students science during this time they are submitting the applications and may want to squeeze as many volunteering events as possible into their application. Wattenberg is true in concluding that even though young adults are volunteering more often the fact that elders are showing the same trend overshadows the significance of it.
The eight chapter is started by Wattenberg with a critique of the claim that Obama’s campaign rallied the young American spirit of voluntarism. Then he continues by stating that even though young people were the early adopters of the Internet, the group that followed campaign news the most were middle-aged Americans. He continues the chapter by discussing that even though the Obama campaign claimed to target the youth, they made no real effort considering the methods that were employed to contact citizens. Furthermore he continues by saying that the media’s report of the Obama campaign energizing the youth to vote was exaggerated in the 2008 Iowa primaries. Then he continues by stating that the increased voter turnout was caused by young minority groups being excited the presidency of Obama. He then proceeds by stating that during the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections the voter turnout decreased drastically among young voters due to the excitement wearing off. Finally, he concludes by saying even though young voters did show to the 2008 and 2012 elections they were still the lowest amount of voters.
Wattenberg’s suggestion of the higher youth voter turnout being related to Obama being African-American is sound. Not only did African-Americans vote more, but also did Asians and Hispanics in the hopes of a president that represented minorities. Next his statement of middle-aged Americans following political coverage through the Internet is still true today. Facebook is the largest social media platform and majority of people who actively use Facebook are middle-aged people. Thus, they also receive their political news from this medium. Wattenberg’s assertion that the elderly are taking advantage of their increased voter turnout is evident. With social programs such as Social Security and Medicaid, that benefit the elderly, taking such a large portion of our national budget, this is the best evidence that the elderly are of a higher importance to politicians. Wattenberg uses table 8.2 to illustrate the steep drop off of voter participation in youth between the 2012 and 2014 elections (193). The age range of 18-24 had a drop off of an excess of 30 percent between the two elections, while the seniors only had a dropoff of 9 percent. This evidence backs up Wattenberg’s assertion that the excitement for presidential elections dies down and is non existent in young voters during the midterm elections.
Wattenberg starts the ninth and final chapter by stating the best way to alleviate this problem is to introduce compulsory voting. The Wattenberg continues by critique other methods of increasing voter turnouts such as increased civic education and easier registration. The he continues by stating other methods that may help such as changing election dayor government reforms. Then he continues by providing statistics that support that compulsory voting would have major support. Finally he provides support for his assertion that compulsory voting is possible.
Wattenberg asserts that compulsory voting is the best method to increase voter turnout and while it would increase the voter turnout. He fails to mention all of the problems that would come to compulsory voting. First of all Americans hate the government telling them to do a certain action. A great example of this was the rampant illegal alcohol business that emerged during prohibition. While alcohol was banned people still produced and sold it illegally and a new wave of mafia crime emerged through this illegal trade. This tradeoff would also be present in compulsory voting. While more people would vote there would also be an increase of false votes since people would vote just because they were forced to. Then this creates the problem of misrepresentation that is already evident between elders and the young adults, so nothing is accomplished. Furthermore, Wattenberg makes the connection between Australia’s compulsory voting and suggests that it could work here also. He also fails to mention the other problems that would arise due the complexity of our government. Just because compulsory voting works for their constitutional monarchy does not mean that it would work as well for our federal republic. Also considering the size of the population of Australia compared to the United States adds another problem with compulsory voting since the compulsory voting would be harder to establish.
Wattenberg’s book regarding if voting is for young people does bring some excellent points with it. For example the explanation of the role of media during elections and how it affects voting, perfectly explains a reason why young adults over have the lowest turnout. His mentioning of how other democratic countries compare in regards to low youth voter turnout is a great method to showcase that the problem is sometimes shared with other countries and sometimes not shared. Overall the book is a great explanation of the problems with low youth voter turnouts and methods to change them for the better of the representation of the public in the United States.
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