That question has been on my mind for a long time.
For many months of this election TV commentators and political observers have noted that young people are incredible involved in this election and that, especially with the help of Barack Obama, a new wave of political activism is brewing in America's up and coming generation.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't feel the same way. In fact, after looking at the electoral map projections this morning (HERE) I started to wonder just how long this "youth involvement" is going to last.
When I was in high school I helped to start a political magazine compiled with opinion pieces, news articles, and photographs all written or taken by students. After three issues the number of students involved rose from 15 to about 25, an accomplishment I was proud of. Though I don't believe that magazine can grow to encompass a much larger group of students, I strongly believe that once created, a rallying point for student political interest like a magazine can sustain itself over time. The same is true for established Model United Nations groups and "College Democrats"-type organizations. Sustained involvement in presidential politics is a lot harder to establish.
In the same way I have heard African-American political analysts note that no matter who wins the election this November, the ongoing fight for equal rights and racial equality in America could be set back (as some would say that electing a black president is the last significant hurdle yet to jump), I view youth involvement in politics similarly.
Should Barack Obama win this November, millions of young people who skipped classes on primary day to hold "Honk for Change" signs will feel like their political involvement was the key to Obama's victory, their minimal actions seemingly all that it takes to put their first beloved candidate in office. And should Barack Obama lose, millions of young people who made hundreds of phone calls, knocked on doors, volunteered at their local Obama campaign office, etc., will feel like their extraordinary efforts did nothing to change the American political landscape.
Either way, it seems hard to imagine a scenario in which youth involvement can increase after the 2008 election. Why? Can you imagine young people marching in the streets with "Joe Biden for Change 2016!" or "Hillary for Hope!" signs?
Barack Obama is the dominant force behind the present increase in young political involvement, not a collective realization among young people that issues like the War in Iraq, healthcare, and the banking crisis desperately need to be resolved.
How many young people rallied around LBJ after JFK?