Wattenberg surfaces the argument about the youth’s participation in politics and the impact of reading the newspaper based on the political context. He claims that most youths are out of touch with politics and that the decrease in newspaper reading in the US is a key contributor to the lack of political involvement. Early immigrants in Jamestown, Virginia, prioritized voting and having their voices known even before the United States of America was formed. Voting has long been an important component of the American way of life, yet ideas on whether voting is a right, obligation, or civic duty vary widely.
Martin Wattenberg’s book Is Voting for Young People? makes a persuasive case that not only are the youth of the twenty-first century in the United States avoiding politics but that this tendency is spreading throughout the world’s mature, established democracies. “Because so many young people don’t follow politics and don’t vote,” Martin Wattenberg continues, “parties and politicians generally don’t bother with young people, thereby extending the age imbalance in electoral participation” (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 46). While reading this book, I had to consider my political activity and wonder if I was part of this out-of-touch bunch of young Americans. Since turning eighteen, I have exercised my right to vote in three presidential elections; nevertheless, my participation did not extend to exercising this right at the municipal level.
In one of the arguments on newspapers, Wattenberg claims the presence of recession in the physical newspapers and an increase in reading of online articles. Printed newspapers delivered to many Americans’ front doors every morning are gradually becoming obsolete. A few clicks over the headlines of a favorite news website are gradually replacing what was previously considered a valued pastime. In the chapter “The Aging of Regular Newspaper Readers,” Wattenberg claims that this global trend would be unimportant if newspapers were replaced with a source of information from which people could learn (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 37). This gradual loss is depicted in a graph on page eleven, showing that in 1957, 76% of Americans read the newspaper every day; by 2004, that percentage had dropped to 41% (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 41). Wattenberg says that this decline in newspaper reading is not simply an American phenomenon but a global one.
Feeling Towards Wattenberg’s Argument
While Wattenberg believes that printed newspapers are decreasing, resulting in less political participation by the youth, this might not be the case. I object to Wattenberg’s argument since newspaper reading depends on many factors that Wattenberg fails to consider. A person can be involved in political activity while at the same time they are not reading the newspaper. For example, former US president George Washington Bush was one of the political leaders who participated in integral activities such as party debates and rallies. Still, he admitted not reading the newspaper daily.
Additionally, Wattenberg fails to note that newspaper reading is a factor of a political party, age, and background. A republican youth might be reading newspapers more than a democratic youth, which does not mean all youths fail to read newspapers. Considering that the current era is digitalized, where the youth are more involved online, they might be getting news and other political information from other sources different from newspapers which do not mean they participate less in politics (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 34). Lastly, once the background is crucial. Some youths might have been brought up in homes that cherished the printed newspapers, while others in houses depended on the electronic media for new information.
As Wattenberg argues the presence of less political participation due to decreased reading of newspapers, he contradicts his argument by presenting a counterargument to his stance. He acknowledges the presence of cable television which has had a significant impact on the political world. According to Wattenberg, this television has widened the once limited news options allowing them to stream news and even get other services (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 105). Additionally, he accepts that the youth have turned to soft news that hits major political events instead of newspapers. Therefore, with these in mind, Wattenberg’s argument about reduced participation of the youth in politics due to lowered newspaper reading can be considered weak as youths are still getting political information from other sources.
Wattenberg states in his last chapter that compulsory voting is the only choice to solve the receding political participation in the US. However, I strongly oppose this solution since the United States of America was founded on the principle of liberty. I do not believe that the government should compel citizens to vote. I feel that voting is a civic duty that I intend to fulfill for the rest of my life. Forcing individuals to vote on something they don’t care about could lead to random selections, similar to lottery numbers (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 106). Despite the author’s belief that high voter participation ensures that all opinions are heard. True, all voices would be heard, even if they were thoughtless ones.
The initiation of Youth Commissions and Councils in various states is one of the methods through which youth participation can be encouraged. States may introduce commissions focused on young individuals’ issues, such as providing leadership training programs and councils that support youth empowerment. These councils can serve as a forum that the youths can use to air out their views and ideas to the government. For instance, Clark County, which is in proximity to my residential place, allows young children and adults ranging from 11 to 19 years old to advise the county (Wattenberg, 2021 p. 108). Lastly, youth commissions and councils can allow the youths to have a voice on the issues affecting them, especially the high school students,
In addition to establishing youth commissions and councils, jurisdictions might initiate youth volunteers and student internship programs for teenagers and college students. These volunteers and internship programs are essential since they help young adults build their political skills, professional networks, and knowledge despite facilitating their political engagement. An example of a youth volunteer program that I am a member of is the Lacy WIN Youth Program that supports and encourages youth to participate in projects that aim to foster community pride. Serving in such political volunteer programs can help youths understand the importance of acknowledging the small bits of politics, such as policy formulation and election processes.
Lastly, the youth can be represented at the city council by their peers, which offers an excellent platform to discuss issues affecting high school and college students and the youths in general. Youth in the political council often act as a motivating factor as their counterparts see how one can be involved in politics directly. This representation allows the youth to discuss bullying in high school and agree on how the issue can be solved politically. Additionally, issues such as stress and anxiety among college students can be solved by political means when the youths get to air such grievances in council meetings. It is appealing that these alternative ways of increasing youth participation are ones that I have interacted with and can form valid, evidence-based proof of increasing youth’s political participation.
Wattenberg P. M. (2021). Is voting for young people? Routledge.