Opinion: Please vote!

Opinion: Please vote!

College-aged students do not turn out to vote. Back in 2010, a mere 21 percent of people our age (18-24) voted. Even fewer showed up last week. We make up a sizeable 21 percent of the eligible voting population. Our failure to vote affects election results and undermines the representative nature of the democratic process. So why do we not vote?

Older critics, the kind that pen think-pieces blaming Gen Y for all of society’s woes, love to argue that the low youth turnout rate is a result of our laziness and apathy. Never mind the fact that the voter turnout among older voters is hardly better, especially during midterm elections. Critics who launch these accusations must imagine us spending most of our time sleeping and waking up only to hop on the couch, chug whole two-liters of Mountain Dew, chow down on jumbo-sized bags of Doritos and flip on TV to binge-watch “Breaking Bad” on Netflix.

Let’s assume that there is a sizeable portion of young people who would genuinely rather stay at home playing six straight hours ofCall of Duty online, rather than dedicating a few hours to read up on candidates and drive over to the nearest polling station. This group of people, I would argue, are missing out on a great opportunity to share their voice, perform their civic duty and help maintain a democratic society with fair, uncorrupt elections that people from Hong Kong to Egypt wish they could experience themselves.

However, the majority of us college students do not fit this category and should feel offended for being considered lazy. If anything, most studies suggest that our generation is generally more invested in improving our community and the world than older generations. Sixty-one percent of 18-21 year olds report that they care deeply about world affairs and feel personally responsible for doing something about these affairs.

A study conducted by The Economist found that, in comparison with older people, young people are more likely to volunteer their time, donate money to charity and pursue higher education. I cannot vouch for students at colleges and universities other than Calvin, but I am proud that most Calvin students I know actively participate in extracurricular groups and have either pursued a leadership position, or have done some form of community service through the Service-Learning Center or a different organization. Plenty of my conversations with Calvin students involve discussing social justice, vocation and how to improve non-profits — hardly the talk of disengaged people.

Of course, statistics and personal anecdotes cannot accurately characterize all college-aged people. The point is that the sweeping generalization that we are all lazy is lazy analysis and is totally unfounded by evidence.

The answer to the youth voter turnout mystery might be that young people lack confidence in the government as an institution. According to a Harvard University study, less than one in five young Americans, or 14 percent, believes the country is headed in the right direction, and confidence in all three branches of government have dropped to historic lows. The Supreme Court has a 30 percent approval rating, the presidency 29 percent and Congress just 14 percent. Another study by Public Policy Polling showed that Congress’s approval rating is lower than the approval ratings of head lice, cockroaches and the band Nickelback, and is virtually tied with Ebola, meth labs and communism. Ouch.

Who can blame voters for feeling skeptical towards government’s ability to act when the 112th Congress was reported as the least productive Congress of all time? The 112th Congress spent more time bickering over partisan politics than considering bills or negotiating serious issues. I cannot speak for everyone in our demographic, but I am sure plenty of people our age feel more cynical towards the government than our parents and grandparents. Our parents and grandparents lived during an era when the government, for all of its flaws, was expected to actually pass legislation, get past its partisan differences to create meaningful policy, support schools, parks, hospitals and social programs. I am no longer confident that any politician, Republican or Democrat, will do their job and accomplish basic functions of government as simple as passing a budget. Given this environment, I do not blame people our age for channeling their energy towards making change through colleges, businesses, think tanks, churches and non-profits rather than the government.

Much responsibility for the lack of youth voter turnout lies on those politicians who have failed to convince voters that their performance is worth supporting. We need to take responsibility for our lack of turnout too, though. Congress may not be working well at the moment, but not voting to support its members is an even worse option. It may feel like a struggle for some to pick between candidates who are likely to disappoint. When choosing between Rick Snyder and Mark Schauer for governor or Terri Lynn Land and Gary Peters for Senator, I could not help but question whether any candidate would seriously do much on issues I care about like improving public education or the awful roads in Michigan.

I voted because I have hope that things can change. If I had not voted, it would send the message that the political status quo is acceptable, incumbent politicians are safe and partisan warfare and legislative gridlock will be allowed to continue. Rather than losing faith in the institution of government, we must do what they can to spur on change, partially through using our right to vote.

Next election cycle, we have the chance to show those who doubt us that we are not lazy, that we care about the future of our country and that we demand to be heard. We can try to show, in our small way, that we do not accept the status quo in Washington, D.C., in which Congress is practically non-operational. I have seen Calvin students hold bake sales for causes from North Korean refugees to human trafficking, go on service-learning trips during their spring break instead of getting a tan in Florida and find time in their busy schedules to tutor and do charity work. In 2016, let’s use some of our passion to vote instead of giving up on our political system.