WASHINGTON -- In the midst of the first government shutdown since 1995, only 13 percent of Americans ages 30 and younger are closely following government shutdown news, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Some young people say they’re more interested in following social media, even though they believe young adults ought to be following what’s going on in Washington.
Brianna Brown, 22, an intern for Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., mainly follows the shutdown news while at work via the CNN app on her phone and C-SPAN. Her internship has continued through the shutdown.
Vermont Law School student Katie Thomas, 26, an intern at the Department of Justice, follows the shutdown closely by reading stories on CNN, MSNBC and Reuters. She was furloughed until further notice because of the shutdown.
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, specializes in voter turnout and participation.
These three were following the shutdown news, but took time to answer questions on why so many young people weren’t.
Q: What are your thoughts on Pew’s findings that youth are the least likely demographic to follow government shutdown news?
Brown: I wouldn’t agree or disagree. Our generation, we have so many other things that we have to worry about whether that be social media, going to work or celebrity stuff. I think it kind of keeps us on a lighter note. It’s almost kind of like ignorance is bliss sometimes.
Thomas: Really? That surprises me. Especially as young people, most of us are in the job market so anything that happens that’s bad to the economy really affects us. You basically have to live under a rock to not be paying attention to what’s going on.
Gans: I think that’s fed by the Internet and social media. That has taken precedence over concerns of our nation. They’re [youth] living in a much more fragmented universe. Part of it is that more than half of people age 18 to 24 have grown up in homes where parents don’t discuss politics. The majority don’t vote. A lot are civic illiterate. They’ve gone to schools in which the development of citizens has taken a back seat to a lot of other things. We increasingly have a nation dominated by anti-government, libertarian and consumerist values.
How much each age group follows shutdown news closely:
• 13%: Younger than 30
• 30%: 30-49 years
• 47%: 50-64 years
• 54%: 65 and older
Q: If you weren’t in D.C. and interning for the federal government during the shutdown, do you think you’d still follow the news?
Brown: I don’t know if I’d necessarily be talking about it if I didn’t work on Capitol Hill. It takes time out of your day to sit down and read a few news articles just to be well equipped. And I think there’s other things we like to do besides sit down and read news articles. But I’m at work at a desk with a computer in front of me, so I have time to read it.
Thomas: Probably … because I remember last year when we almost shutdown, I was paying attention to it very closely. It had nothing to do with me personally except for the fact that it affects us all.
Q: Do you think it’s important for youth to follow the government shutdown news?
Brown: It’s important for people to really read and understand facts before they come to conclusions. A lot of people just kind of jump on the bandwagon of media. If you were following up to the shutdown, you wouldn’t be as surprised. I think it’s important for people to be knowledgeable but take the time to be knowledgeable before you say stupid stuff.
Thomas: I get through my day having made the false belief that our generation does care more about issues that affect us. I think we’ve seen that with issues like climate change and gay rights and stuff like that. I think it’s going to be very important for our generation to understand the debt ceiling conversation … because if we let Congress do what they’re doing now, we’re going to have a huge problem on our hands.
Q: Suggestions on how the media can better communicate these messages to younger generations?
Thomas: More of the reporting that actually explains why this is such a huge deal, what happens, and makes it more clear. The media has started to really learn how we consume things in small bits and Twitter and little pieces and sound bites and pictures. That’s more effective for reaching our people in really clear easy terms. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Gans: You have to promote a whole different set of values. At this point, it’s going to get worse. To say it takes so much work, the question is if the people will perceive that that work is necessary.