The Myth of Youth Apathy: Young Europeans’ Critical Attitudes Toward Democratic Life

  • Citation: Cammaerts, Bart, Michael Bruter, Shakuntala Banaji, Sarah Harrison, and Nick Anstead. “The Myth of Youth Apathy: Young Europeans’ Critical Attitudes Toward Democratic Life.” American Behavioral Scientist 58, no. 5 (2013): 645–64.
    • Topics:
    • Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding
    • Keywords:
    • United Kingdom
    • France
    • Spain
    • Austria
    • Finland
    • Hungary
    • youth
    • participation
    • democracy
    • apathy
    • elections
    • activism

A common interpretation of the low levels of electoral turnout among young voters is that they are apathetic and part of a generation that does not care about political issues—indeed, a selfish and materialistic generation. In this article, the authors question this common perception and test this claim against an important alternative: that the limitations to youth participation in Europe are due not to a lack of interest in the public good but rather to a combination of contextual and psychosocial factors, including the real as well as perceived inadequacy of the existing political offer. The authors assessed young people’s attitudes toward democratic life in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Austria, Finland, and Hungary. A mixture of a comparative mass survey, stakeholder interviews, an experiment, and focus groups was used. The data suggest that young people are willing to engage politically but are turned off by the focus and nature of existing mainstream political discourse and practice, which many believe excludes them and ignores their needs and interests. Contrary to the assumptions of the disaffected and apathetic citizen approach, there is a strong desire among many young Europeans to participate in democratic life, but this desire is not met by existing democratic institutions and discourses.

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