Panelists discuss effect of polarized politics on youth vote

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With Election Day less than a month away, ballots are filled with candidates from the far left and far right, leaving some voters stuck in the middle.

Members of a political panel called “Political Polarization: A Conversation Across the Divide” said the wide ideological divide between left and right is alienating young voters.

The panel, sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life within the College of Communications, was held Thursday. The institute aims to create understanding to overcome political problems and encourage civic engagement.

Regina Lawrence, the institute’s director, said the topic is important to students who have only witnessed partisanship in government.

“I don’t know if [young people] know this, but politics hasn’t always been like this, been so divided,” Lawrence said. “A lot of people are feeling the same frustration about politics and bad blood between parties. Right now it might be fun if you are super-partisan, but it is not very helpful for the rest of us.”

Panelist Linda Moore Forbes, former staff of the Democratic Leadership Council and special assistant to the President during the Clinton administration, said constant political reporting and partisan media coverage have contributed to the political divide.

“Now we have a situation where people focus on the short-term battle every single day in the media,” Forbes said. “The tipping point of when it changed was the rise of the internet, the rise of the blogosphere.”

Panelist Mark McKinnon, former media adviser to George W. Bush, said along with the partisanship in politics, lobbying and undisclosed donations inhibit legislative action.

“There is an enormous amount of outside money coming into the system,” McKinnon said. “It’s amplifying the voices of minority interests. If you are outside of Washington and you look at what’s happening in Washington, you hear these voices that you think reflect the view of the country, and they don’t.”

Panelist Trey Grayson, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and former Secretary of State of Kentucky, helped produce Harvard’s 2012 survey, “Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service,” in which only 48 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds surveyed nationwide said they will definitely be voting. Grayson said a polarized political system has contributed to the lack of participation.

“The concern is that, for many of you, this is your introduction to politics, to voting,” Grayson said. “We want you all to believe in the system and believe that your voices matter and that your votes matter — that you can make a difference.”

The institute will host a post-election debriefing conference Nov. 9 in the Belo Center for New Media.

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: Panel talks youth, polarizing politics