Are Millennials really more alienated from politics than youth in generations past?
If there’s one thing that left, right, and center can agree on these days, it’s that the federal government is not functioning well. Congress, the first branch of government mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, has roughly the approval rating of anthrax. Public opinion of the Supreme Court, according to the Pew Research Center, is at 50 percent—the lowest in thirty years of polling. Our twice-elected president isn’t even hitting the 50 percent approval mark.
The implications of all this for the next generation of would-be politicos is the subject of Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics, a new book by the political scientists Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox. The basic question is simple: How are we to run a democracy if no one will run for office?
Lawless and Fox, who have previously written about the gender gap in politics, conducted hundreds of interviews on this question, and largely confirm the conventional wisdom: young people are generally turned off to politics, which they perceive as a corrupt cesspool of incompetence and pointless flailing. Since the mid-1990s, a paltry 20 percent of under-thirty voters have voted in midterm elections. Had they gone to the polls in 2014, things might have turned out very differently. The authors do not, however, come close to establishing their major premise—that young people are more alienated than youth in generations past. Cranky graybeards have been griping about young people since time immemorial, so a book premised on today’s youth being unusually disconnected faces a high burden of proof.