Reporting on the prevalence of political apathy in the United States, the first Community Service Student Fellow Kevin McCarthy ’06 presented the results of his summer research late last term. Discussing the focus of his research using background information, McCarthy said that in 1971, 18-year olds won the right to vote but a year later only 55 percent of 18-25 year olds who were eligible to vote did so. Bringing his audience up-to-date, McCarthy said that in 2000 the 18-25 age group represented 15 percent of the total voting population, but only 46 percent were registered to vote. An even smaller percent of those eligible actually voted. Providing a basis for comparison, McCarthy said that although less than half of those eligible to vote choose to in the United States, 75 percent of the voting population in the European nations of France, Ireland, England and Finland vote. In Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Sweden voting turnout tops 90 percent. McCarthy believes that young people in the U.S. are often not politically active because, “Many don’t see a connection between their interests and voting.” He continued,“Young people don’t believe that their vote makes a difference and in a recent survey of college students, it was revealed that only half of all polled believed politics has an immediate or tangible result.” McCarthy said that young people often have non voting parents. “To change voting habits of people over the age of thirty is difficult,” he said. McCarthy also discussed the influence of the mass media on political apathy. “Youth are especially skeptical about politicians in part due to a negative media,” he said. McCarthy said that low voting participation amongst America’s youth is because of the public’s ignorance. “While less than 30 percent of Americans know the three branches of government, over 70 percent know the names of the Three Stooges,” he said. To solve the problem of political apathy, McCarthy suggested that voting electronically will to allow voters to eliminate requirement of previous registration. He also presented research from the Youth Vote Coalition, which discovered that face to face canvassing of those under thirty years of age increase voter turnout by an average of 8.5 percent. “One cannot underestimate the importance of personalizing voting for young people,” he said. McCarthy said that in a pilot program conducted by Cambridge, Mass. the voting age was lowered to 16. According to the program’s results, if people start voting younger, they build better voting habits. “Schools can therefore begin a positive involvement,” he said. McCarthy spent his summer researching in Cambridge and Washington D.C.
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