Everyone knows the U.S. Congress is dysfunctional. Everyone believes its politicians are hypocritical, self-serving, and corrupt. And everyone is certain the federal government cannot solve our country’s problems.
So, it’s not unreasonable for adults under the age of 25 to eschew the idea of entering politics. Ever. That summarized American University Professor Jennifer Lawless’ message at the latest Westminster Town Hall Forum on Wednesday, October 29, 2015. If Congress has an approval rating of less than ten per cent and “it’s hard to find anyone who thinks [it] is doing what is right,” no young adults in their rights mind should consider politics a worthy and rewarding career choice. Right?
Not according to Lawless. A self-described political junkie from childhood, she agrees “it’s hard to blame them.” With all the lying, grid-lock, and shut-downs that have afflicted Congress over the past half-dozen years, young people would “be crazy to run for office.” With most of their families and friends declining to engage in political discussion, it’s small wonder that young people’s disengagement from politics “is far worse than [that of] previous generations.”
Her data back up their outlook. Of 4200 high school and college students she and collaborator Professor Richard L. Fox surveyed for their book, “Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics,” 89% rejected the idea of entering politics of any kind. Out of a list of 20 professions with similar responsibilities and incomes, becoming a Congressional representative ranked in the bottom fifth with mayor, councilmember, and president.
Given that the United States has over 500 thousand elected positions, Lawless feels we’re facing a crisis that “compromises the quality of United States democracy.” (One example: in state congressional races alone, 25% of candidates run unopposed, according to cultural satirist John Oliver.) Of five recommendations to combat political non-involvement presented in her book, she coyly elaborated upon two: make political aptitude and/or awareness part of the college application process and create a smartphone application that shows how to run for any office from dog catcher to U. S. president.
Applying either of these suggestions would begin to chip away at the country’s and, particularly young people’s, lack of engagement in the system. For Lawless, such a commitment is personal because she still believes “politics is noble.” Writing and promoting her book testifies to her hope for the future that in holding such a conviction, “I’m not the anomaly.”