“Is Voting for Young People?” – a book by Martin Wattenberg that analyzes the 2016 election. In turn, the author draws certain conclusions based on a sample of all voters during the voting period. In addition, an essential part of the work is the prediction of voter turnout in the 2020 elections. According to all his analyses, Wattenberg tries to explain whether young people are interested in participating in elections. An essential part of the work is the author’s attempts to analyze whether the young generation is interested in politics and what influences their interest.
Martin Wattenberg, in the book, demonstrates several arguments that explain why the majority of voters are an older audience. The author gives several well-argued reasons. The first reason is that the main media used, newspapers and television, are geared towards an older audience from the beginning. Although fewer and fewer young people read newspapers and watch television, all political shows are targeted at older people (Wattenberg 28). Accordingly, the availability of current political information among young people decreases somewhat.
The author’s following argument is that the motivation and awareness of the younger generation are too low. Wattenberg claims that because young people do not understand politics, they do not understand its importance (46). For most Americans, the scale of specific political events is not easy because the way politics is communicated has changed. Thus, a young audience does not take certain things with particular seriousness. Evening shows, where many political events are demonstrated through a comedic prism, have become a problem, which has both positive and negative consequences. Thus, following politics is not a priority for young people.
The author sees the spread of comedy shows as one of the problems young people do not understand politics. As mentioned earlier, there was active development of the news coverage trend. A large part of comedy shows often used these shows to get information about politics: “Jon Stewart of the Daily Show at first dismissed out of hand any notion that young people were turning to his comedy show to learn about political events” (Wattenberg 48 – 49). Accordingly, if comedy shows become the primary source of information about political events, mainstream broadcasting is not a priority for the younger generation.
Young people become interested in voting when the elections have a particular sensation. Wattenberg compares individual presidential polls to the Super Bowl since it has become standard on television and social media (97-98). However, if it is an election in local communities or something else, the voters do not see the point in participating because it does not interest them. Thus, the spread of voting ideas works if it is trending on various social networks.
The last important argument of Martin Wattenberg is that there is a big difference in the understanding of civic duty between the old generation and the young. The main reason why young people do not understand the importance of voting is that it is not talked about very much. Because campaigning has decreased compared to the last century, young people lack an understanding of the importance of their voices (Wattenberg 122). Thus, the main reason why voter turnout has decreased is that the younger generation has an open political apathy toward political voting.
It is important to note that Martin Wattenberg’s argument is quite good, and the facts support much of the main arguments. In the beginning, Wattenberg talks about the analysis of the elections in 2016. The author reviewed and analyzed voting results from the last century. Very few things show modernity; much of the argument relates to and is supported only by the figures of the previous century. Only the last part of the book reveals its idea. Wattenberg initially opposes and talks about modernity; the available research cannot confirm specific details.
The author’s arguments are meaningful and understandable, but they often boil down to the fact that young people are not interested, and there is no explanation for this. That is how the author explains why older people go to vote, but there is no clear explanation regarding the younger generation. Wattenberg pays excellent attention to the analysis of voter turnout but not to why there is so little interest in elections among young people. Therefore, there are quite a few questions about the book.
An essential part of the book is the last chapter, which summarizes all the work of the book. In this part, the author tries to provide advice on spreading and attracting the younger generation to vote. The main argument is that it is worth introducing mandatory turnout for elections, which is the only correct decision for Wattenberg in this situation (214). It is worth saying that I’m afraid I have to disagree with this since the author is entirely one-sided about the solution to the problem.
I cannot say that the only correct option would be to introduce mandatory voting for young people. They should understand that the importance of this process is not clear to young people in the first place. Therefore, first of all, it is worth implementing civic education, which will strengthen this part because, first of all, it is worth spreading awareness among young people. Wattenberg, in turn, also claims that: “civic education will yield results only among those who are fairly receptive to being educated” (215). Yes, I agree with this statement. Since not all young people will be interested in voting, just like not all the adult generation, there are always groups of people who are not involved in social or political events because of their position.
It is worth noting that to justify his position on mandatory voting, Martin Wattenberg completely rejects all other proposed ideas. The author gives examples of the proposals of his students and, at the same time, refutes them, which is interesting because the students are precisely the generation concerning which Wattenberg did research (Wattenberg (216-221). I want to say that the proposals of the students, which were described at the end of the book, i.e., recommendations regarding increasing the turnout of the younger generation in elections, seemed to me to be more reasoned and better than the conclusions drawn by the author.
That should add that the conclusions of Martin Wattenberg are ambiguous and questionable. Despite this, the book “Is Voting for Young People?” provides an understanding of the current situation regarding political voting. In addition, the book gives a clear understanding of the role of politics in the life of the young generation. Thus it allows us to rethink attitudes toward certain things in life. Significantly, the book can help politicians change their political companies and improve their impact on the entire population, not on a specific age group.
Wattenberg, Martin P. Is Voting for Young People?. Routledge, 2020.