Citizen Tleilax


“Easily Seduced” Not Limited to Youth by Any Means

Recently Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill that lowers the voter registration age in California from 18 to 17. Note that this does not affect the actual voting age, but is intended to engage students still attending high school and interest them as citizens in preparation for when they become eligible to vote once they do turn 18. The prospect of actually lowering the voting age would certainly provide a great deal of controversy, because many people tend to feel that the youth is much more likely to be “easily seduced” by slick politicians who make attractive promises with no intention of actually following through and delivering them. People would argue that young folk are simply too irresponsible to be handed such power, seeing as they are so commonly in the throes of idealistic passion, only partially thought out viewpoints and the like, and would vote for anyone who claimed to represent some romantic, yet unrealistic, perspective.

Of course, if anybody believes these things only apply to those under 18, they must not be very observant when it comes to social matters. Perhaps “idealistic passion” is more common among those who haven’t yet aged into jaded or apathetic pessimists (since most people certainly don’t age into intelligent and conscientious activists), but I think that being idealistic is a good thing, if one approaches it in a practical manner. In any case, I would certainly posit that, in general, high school age adolescents are equal in their decision-making abilities to the average American voter from any other age bracket. I will partially illustrate my perspective using an example from my personal experience with numerous “responsible” and “thorough” (as they often are assumed to be) citizens of legal voting age.

During August and September of 2009 I volunteered with a grassroots campaign for LA City Council. It was a race which had a few extremely well funded candidates, and several barely funded independent candidates. One of my roles in the campaign was to call voters on the phone, as well as engage them face-to-face in public places like Farmers’ Markets. Since the candidate I was volunteering for had little money, his name was not known to the thousands of voters who received several mailers from the big-money candidates. I definitely talked to far more people than what sociologists would consider a truly representative sample (at least of people living in a particular district of LA), and of those who were planning on voting, a massive majority had no interest whatsoever in learning about a candidate they had not already heard of–they had already chosen based purely on what came in their mailboxes, or in the instance of one candidate, how their official party affiliation told them to vote. If this does not qualify for “easily seduced”, I’m not sure exactly what to call it… other than completely willful ignorance. Voters absolutely did not want to pay attention to–much less authentically consider–the actual choices they had or look into the differences in the actual issues, simply because the grassroots candidates did not have material that arrived en masse in the voters’ mailboxes with flashy colors and almost insultingly simplistic promises and goals.

These voters were not informed, nor did they want to be. Very few knew enough to tell me anything about what they were actually voting for or why (besides just whimsy or being told to), and these were the people who actually were voting–which ultimately was less than 12% of eligible voters in the district. And they are the ones who decided which candidate was elected to City Council–which by the way is a very important post, particularly in Los Angeles. I can honestly say that high school students, (hell, even middle school students!) have the exact same grasp on issues as many of these people–people who paid attention to nothing but the base fact that there was an election, and a plethora of shamefully superficial ads that came in their mailboxes. A child of any age can point at an image it likes and “choose” it. The quality of information commonly presented in mailers is more or less equivalent to a promise to give the voter candy in exchange for a vote, while the opposing candidate(s) will take it away from you if you vote for them–useless and deceptive.

While I don’t know what would happen if the voting age was lowered, I definitely wouldn’t make the typical arguments against it. For all I know, it might even be a positive thing to shake up our desperately ignorant country. There is already a massive problem with voters not being authentic or informed, so it is a rather incompetent move to hold voting-age people up as any sort of example opposed to what slightly younger voters might be like. My experience with directly talking to hundreds of voters in a very condensed period via phone calls and face-to-face conversations has clearly illustrated to me that the youth in general is no more “easily seduced” than every single other demographic.

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As a side note, it’s well known that local elections generate less interest and turnout than statewide or national elections. They are of course just as important, perhaps even more so at times since these are the people that directly affect our immediate environment, and ones that we have easier access to as our representatives. Despite this decreased interest, I believe that the same amount of ignorance and deceivability is present in larger elections. Though I have only my own experience to draw from, I find it reasonable to assume that the percentage of ignorant voters versus highly informed voters scales for any size election for an official (ballot propositions are a different matter). I.e. if only 5% of voters in a local election are truly informed, I find it likely that only 5% of voters in a larger election are truly informed. There’s more of them, but still the same percentage of those actually casting a vote and making the decisions in our society. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that mass media consistently refuses to cover candidates who are not Democrat or Republican, and the fact that candidates of those stripes rarely convey detailed information themselves, requiring people to actually dedicate an often significant effort towards doing their own research. And anybody interested in politics knows how few people actually spend their valuable time on that.