Young Voters Begin to Doubt Democracy

Young voters turned out in big numbers in 2008 and then stayed home in record numbers in 2014. There are many explanations for this, but one that’s not talked about is their attitude toward democracy itself.

Research recently presented by Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk shows growing disillusionment with democracy—not just with politics or campaigns, but with democracy itself.

This growth is worldwide, but it is especially strong among young Americans. Fewer than 30 percent of Americans born since 1980 say that living in a democracy is essential. For those born since 1970, more than one in five describe our democratic system as “bad or very bad.” That’s almost twice is the rate for people born between 1950 and 1970.

This is hopefully a transient phenomenon. The failure of the Arab Spring and struggles in the European Union probably explain the global downtick, but here at home it’s probably related to the dysfunction, gridlock and non-responsiveness of the federal government, especially Congress.

It’s not clear what young folks think is the better alternative to representative government, but who can blame them for not being enamored with their representation?

So, when we see the outlines of fascism forming on the right, is that really surprising? If you give the people Weimar, someone will step into the breach.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at