John Stossel, Fox News journalist and self-described libertarian, spoke to Neil Cavuto last Thursday on his views regarding get-out-the-vote campaigns and overall voter intelligence. Stossel believes that despite the commonly held virtue of allowing everyone to possess the right to vote, some people are too dumb and thus should not vote at all. When asked by Cavuto who exactly is “dumb,” Stossel replies, “kids.”
It is comments like these that make young people cynical of the democratic process in the first place. Stossel is simply wrong on the virtue of universal suffrage. From what I have personally gathered from my time on PolicyMic, young people are just as informed as any (and I mean this for pundits I commonly disagree with as well as those I do agree with). Being an informed citizen has little to do with age so much as it does a wide variety of other social factors.
Stossel said to Cavuto, “The people who participate ought to be the ones who pay attention, I’m just saying we shouldn’t have these ‘Get Out the Vote’ campaigns and make these statements: ‘Everyone has to vote. It’s your patriotic duty!’ Well if you are not paying attention, I think it’s your patriotic duty not to vote.” During the program, Stossel equates the “patriotic duty” view and instinct of voting with the common instinct regarding the fear of flying, plugging in for the topic of his own upcoming episode of Stossel.
In 2008, Stossel said the same thing to Sheppard Smith before that high profile election. During the 2010 mid-term election cycle, he said it again to Bill O’Reilly on the O’Reilly Factor and claimed that, “young people often don’t know anything.” Despite his claims, the trend of voter turnout among those aged 30 and younger has been positive and can be attributed to the good work done by those “Get Out the Vote” campaigns.
According to research done by the “Rock the Vote” campaign, the youth vote has been on a steady and growing path among other voting age groups. The report states that 40% of eligible young voters turned out in the 2000 election. This grew to 49% for the 2004 election, the largest surge in voter turnout among all age groups. By 2008, the number increased to 51% with a total of 22 million voters aged between 18 and 30 showing up at the polls. During the lower-profile mid-term elections of 2006 and 2010, the same age group turned out as consistently as any other age group did. Certainly, these voters were for the most part paying attention to politics and the world around them.
One should keep in mind the recent study by Farleigh Dickenson University showing that Fox News viewers themselves are less likely to be informed on both domestic politics and foreign affairs than those who did not watch cable news at all. With a sample population of 612 residents of New Jersey, the study concluded that Fox fans are 18% less likely to know about the Egyptian Revolution and 6% less likely to be aware of the fact that the Syrian population has yet to topple the regime of Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad. What’s more, only 47% of Fox fans were able to identify Occupy Wall Street protesters as mostly democratic. This stands in contrast with viewers of the Daily Show with John Stewart who have a 12% greater likelihood of knowing that same fact.
Clearly being an informed individual has little to do with what age group you belong to as much as it does with other factors, like where exactly you receive your information about the world. Stossel’s comments are off the mark when it comes to the perceived intelligence of 50 million millennial voters, a group larger in number than that of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. It is estimated that by this coming election, the millennial voting bloc will account for nearly a quarter of the eligible voting population. Although not all those belonging to that group are registered, the trend of youth voter turnout may stay positive. Hopefully voters will take Stossel’s comments aside and continue to be a significant force in America’s body politic.
Pho Credit: Wikimedia Commons