Columnist bemoans apolitical generation

Globe and Mail national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson visited STU to ask the question “why are young people not interested in politics?”

Simpson suggested a series of possible answers, but offered no conclusions of his own.

“The notion that [voting] is part of your citizenship and an obligation has somehow, and I don’t know why, dropped away.”

The generational gap was demonstrated in front of roughly 70 political science and journalism students in the lecture theatre, when third-year journalism student Alex Vautour confessed her disinterest and lack of understanding of politics.

“I think the reason that young people don’t vote is because they don’t understand politics. Like me, I don’t get it. It’s such a broad and complicated thing,” she said.

“Read a book, for god’s sake.” shouted political science professor Shaun Narine. Several in attendance laughed, and a few clapped.

But Simpson said the issue is not a dumbed down generation, just an apolitical one.

Simpson suggested civics classes need to be reinstated into high schools. At the heart of the issue is engagement and a better understanding of our civic institutions could help.

“Forty years ago an NDP convention was full of young people, piss and vinegar, long hair, ‘ban the bomb,’ pro-abortion, ‘go-get-’em,’ change the world. Now it’s a group of people in their 50s and 60s remembering back when they were doing that,” Simpson said.

He pointed out that the young Conservatives are the most politically mobilized youth in the country, and they get the “ideological fervour going early.”

“It’s been a long time… since we’ve actually had any political people who talk about a vision, who have talked about some ennobling part of citizenship,” said the 64-year-old columnist. “We’ve been in small-ball politics for a long time now, where you slice-and-dice the electorate, and you make a particular appeal to that particular group on the basis of their self interest, and their pocket books.”

Simpson said while he doesn’t know the answers, he still sees hope for young adults to become more politically aware.

Journalists can write about any issue until they can’t stand it anymore but, until the right moment and until the people are ready for it, it won’t accomplish much, he said.

“There is this alchemic moment at which a number of people who hitherto hadn’t paid attention all of a sudden say ‘now I’m ready’.”

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