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Millennials Too Self-Absorbed to Vote

March 21, 2017

How things change.  When I was a teenager I followed the news and yearned for the first time to cast a ballot.  I have not missed a single election since age 18.  Today the statistics about twenty- somethings show something much different.  And very troubling.

Though Israeli politics is atypical—steeped in questions of war, peace, religious identity and the relationship with Palestinians—the voting behaviour of its young is nevertheless all of a pattern with the rest of the rich world. In Britain and Poland less than half of under-25s voted in their country’s most recent general election. Two-thirds of Swiss millennials stayed at home on election day in 2015, as did four-fifths of American ones in the congressional election in 2014. Although turnout has been declining across the rich world, it has fallen fastest among the young. According to Martin Wattenberg of the University of California, Irvine, the gap in turnout between young and old in many places resembles the racial gap in the American South in the early 1960s, when state governments routinely suppressed the black vote.

Millennials are not the first young generation to be accused of shirking their civic duty. And they are more interested in ideas and causes than they are given credit for. They are better educated than past generations, more likely to go on a protest or to become vegetarian, and less keen on drugs and alcohol. But they have lost many of the habits that inclined their parents to vote.

In Britain only three in five of under-25s watch the news on television, compared with nine in ten of over-55s. Young people are also less likely to read newspapers, or listen to the news on the radio. Each year around a third of British 19-year-olds move house; the average American moves four times between 18 and 30. People who have children and own a home feel more attached to their communities and more concerned about how they are run. But youngsters are settling down later than their parents did.

The biggest shift, however, is not in circumstances but in attitudes. Millennials do not see voting as a duty, and therefore do not feel morally obliged to do it, says Rob Ford of Manchester University. Rather, they regard it as the duty of politicians to woo them. They see parties not as movements deserving of loyalty, but as brands they can choose between or ignore. Millennials are accustomed to tailoring their world to their preferences, customising the music they listen to and the news they consume. A system that demands they vote for an all-or-nothing bundle of election promises looks uninviting by comparison. Although the number of young Americans espousing classic liberal causes is growing, only a quarter of 18- to 33-year-olds describe themselves as “Democrats”. Half say they are independent, compared with just a third of those aged 69 and over, according to the Pew Research Centre.

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