Why the youth of America are running from office

Ellie Hislop, Contributing Writer

With their first memory of the White House revolving around President Hillary Clinton’s sex scandal or President George Bush lying about having weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it’s easy to understand why young people today have little faith in our government. Professor Jennifer Lawless of the Department of Government at American University spoke to the University students Nov. 1, on the recent trend of American young people having almost zero inclination to run or even consider a career in office.

Lawless said that according to a recent study she did on things people find more interesting than Congress, “cockroaches, traffic jams, and Donald Trump were all more popular.” This same study showed that most people feel that if all 535 members of Congress were to be replaced with random strangers, they would get more done than the current officeholders. One college student interviewed by Lawless said that he’d “rather be a farmer and milk cows for a living than run for office.” Another college student said “I would rather keep my hair not grey, I’m not running for office.”

“In a nutshell, young people aren’t interested in running for office,” Lawless said.

Associate professor of political science, Chris Ellis, commented, “If most people are put off by the nasty, tribal politics we see all around us, then the people that will remain interested enough in running for office are those who find this sort of discussion appealing. That means that this will sort of become a self-perpetuating cycle, where polarized politics just leads to more polarizing elected officials.”

“If people see political elected officials as dishonest and the political realm as not respectable, why would anyone want to enter into that career path?” Kate Franklin ’20 said.

Much of this is due to the lack of political discussion going on around the dinner table. According to Lawless, “75 percent of high school and college students say that their parents never talk about politics at home.” Therefore, it’s very hard to blame young people for their lack of interest in politics when many of them are growing up in apolitical households. Many students say that they don’t want to discuss politics with parents because they don’t want to get into arguments.

“In general, there is this sense that nothing good comes from talking about politics,” Lawless said. “Ultimately you just end up condemning the whole government,” Lawless said.

“I personally do not fit into the majority of young people she discusses. My parents are very politically engaged; my brother is a political science major currently interning at AEI [the American Enterprise Institute], and almost every dinner conversation revolves around politics. So my experience was very atypical,” Franklin said.

This lack of political discussion carries over into conversations with friends as well. For example, Lawless said that “65 percent of young people say they think their friends have zero interest in politics.”

One high school sophomore interviewed by Lawless said “I’m never going to bring up politics with my friends, talk about killing the mood.” At the end of the day, “it is hard to walk away from a conversation about politics still respecting one another when your ideals don’t line up with your peers,” Lawless said.

It was found that young people do rank motivation to create a positive influence on society among other life priorities such as professional career success and marriage. Lawless suggested that if students are exposed to the positive accomplishments of Congress and the government as a whole, they might be more inclined to consider a professional career in politics.

Ellis added, “[…]students learn to talk respectfully with people they disagree with, and learn to develop an appreciation and respect for American democratic institutions, and then find that it’s really something that they actually find fun. That could be a way to bring more sane people back to the center of the political system.”

“There are certain things that can only law and the government can fix. If we want the best and the brightest to run for office, we need to change it from a bunch of crazy men in Washington,” Lawless said.

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