New AP poll confirms what YIP’s been saying, doing for years & explains what we’re doing next
A recent Associated Press-Gfk poll confirmed something we’ve been saying for a while now: young people care and want to get involved. According to the poll, Americans under 30 are more likely than older Americans to consider volunteering a very important civic duty. That’s something YIP knew intuitively: we’re shamelessly proud of having helped hundreds of young Philadelphians connect with the area’s best nonprofits. That’s the core of what we always have and always will do.
But, unfortunately, that same poll showed that young Americans cared less about other important obligations as citizens, such as voting and staying informed.
As the AP notes: “The share who call volunteering very important has climbed 10 percentage points, while staying informed dropped 13 points. The importance of voting, jury duty, reporting a crime and speaking English as obligations of citizenship also declined among young adults.”
While that last finding would make many of us smile (and Joey Vento spin in his grave), the rest are troubling, though understandable.
A large reason why young people don’t see voting as important is because we’ve been told, too often, that our votes don’t matter. Political stories in the media tend to focus on three aspects: the horse race, the overwhelming influence of big money, and (locally, at least) the intractable entrenchment of establishment politicians. Volunteering articles, meanwhile, are heartwarming personal interest stories: profiles of inspiring personalities who are helping others through non-profit volunteering and philanthropic endeavors. Nonprofit work has been bathed in a rosy aura by the same media that repeatedly takes a jaundiced look at everything the list bit political. It’s a caustic dialectic that doing no one (other than YIP and our amazing nonprofit partners) any good, because its driving talented, caring people away from the presumedly dirty world of electoral politics.
As much as YIP loves and supports nonprofit work, we know that it alone cannot tackle the serious challenges facing Philadelphia. Philly needs to attack our 27 percent poverty rate, our underfunded schools, our still weak job growth, our infrastructure deficiencies and still too high crime rate from all fronts: our incredible nonprofits need equally incredible elected officials (and the support of the business community, too).
In 2012, 64 percent of registered voters under the age of 30 in Philadelphia voted, narrowly outpacing older Philadelphians (63 percent). But back in 2010, only 29 percent of registered young Philadelphians voted, compared to 44 percent of older Philadelphians. The numbers were even worse in our last mayoral primary election: only 7.8 percent of the 18-29 demographic and 28.3 percent of the 30+ crowd turned up at the polls in 2011.
The difference, of course, was that 2012 was a presidential election. But the mere prospect of voting for President wasn’t why Millennials voted more. Rather, it was because the presidential campaigns actually targeted younger voters, and targeted them with information, making it possible for younger voters to understand what was at stake. The campaigns repeatedly reminded all of us that our votes matter and explained the consequences of not voting. Local elections don’t do that, leaving a vacuum filled primarily by local media’s overwhelmingly negative and discouraging narrative. That keeps the would-be Cincinnatus-es away, much to the delight of our modern day Caesars.
This coming year, YIP’s going to step up our politics game. We’ll be doing more to encourage young Philadelphians to register to vote, get informed, actually vote, and even run for office. All the while, we’ll continue to help Philadelphians, newcomers and the born-and-bred alike, get involved in their community by connecting them to Philly’s fantastic non-profit community. We’re not saying we know how to fix all Philly’s problems, but we do know that a more engaged young electorate is part of the solution.
I hope you join us. And if you’re a member of the media (like I am), I hope you’ll keep in mind that the steady drumbeat of negativity will march millennials further and further away from political engagement and only serve to cement the establishment’s grip on power. I’m not suggesting any journalist should pull their punches, but only that instead of another fluff piece about a wealthy business leader or an influential nonprofit executive, maybe highlight the work of a dedicated civil servant or elected official, and give the kids a reason to give a damn about politics.