These young Kansas Citians say politicians don’t really care about them. They still plan to vote | KCUR 89.3


“Inflation, school, coronavirus.” That’s what 18-year-old Sye Chatam said when asked to describe the country today in three words. “All of this worries us young people.”

Chatman, in track shorts and a clean white hoodie, was about to climb an escalator at the Ward Parkway Center in Kansas City, Missouri. He stopped to answer questions for a KCUR reporter after a recent one Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics poll suggested people in Chatman’s age group will increasingly impact the 2024 elections.

His comments reflected the feelings of many Americans in the 18- to 29-year-old constituency: They’re voting, but they’re not sure their vote counts.

Chatman, who just graduated from Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, works at a Walmart and said he would soon take a job as a customer service representative at a bank. He played football at Central but spent three of his four high school years in the pandemic, with each fall unclear how many games there would be in the season.

His concerns included the high cost of gas and groceries. He said he worries about the young families in his community and how he will achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a firefighter.

But his parents always choose, he said, and he will too.

“I have already voted this year and will vote in November,” he said. “I mean, I’ll vote whenever I have to vote. Does my vote really matter? Everyone says it is, so I agree.”

This despite three other words he had for the country’s political climate: “Corrupt, secretive and very difficult.”

This sentiment also aligns with what pollsters are saying other young voterswho ran in the last two elections with record turnout but are unhappy about the state of the world.

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They are disillusioned with party bickering, a lack of empathy and concern that politicians are not addressing issues important to them. The authors of the Harvard study say young voters will continue to get involved and vote, but “their disdain for a system that favors the elite and is overwhelmingly partisan is clear.”

Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty said there’s an old adage that applies to this issue.

“There’s a reason you don’t mess with Social Security: because you’re not going to win an election. But you don’t have to raise the minimum wage,” he said.

Young black man sits in blue chair looking into distance, hands clasped in lap

Laura Ziegler

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KCUR 89.3

Xavier Lewis, 19, said he and his friends often discuss politics. He said he would vote in November but describes the political environment as “chaotic”. When he watches the news, he worries that the country is headed for a “civil war.”

Beatty has been studying electoral politics for more than 25 years. Historically, youth voting is unreliable, he said. They can show up in record numbers for one election and stay home for the next. They are often difficult to organize.

“But those are definitions of youth,” Beatty said with a chuckle. “And because of those things, there can be this vicious cycle where elected officials don’t pay much attention to their concerns because there’s no electoral incentive to do so.”

Intolerance of inauthenticity

Elijah Adams, a 22-year-old business major from Topeka, was at Kansas City, Kansas Community College to review course offerings.

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The self-proclaimed independent, wearing a smart blue suit and tie, said he is determined to vote but will not vote for anyone he doesn’t believe in.

He didn’t vote in 2020, he said, because he didn’t like presidential candidates Biden or Trump. Since Biden’s election, Adams said he sees no evidence the president has addressed the toxic partisan rhetoric or economic inequalities he promised to work on during the campaign.

Black man in blue suit sitting on bench in hallway with one arm crossed over body, another under his chin.

Elijah Adams, 22, said he was voting for the candidate, not the party. He said he believes politicians are not taking the time to step up, understand the challenges facing their communities or support young people who need them.

Its elected officials don’t show up in the communities they represent, Adams said, “except to make a little speech and then leave.” They see the impact of inflation, a lack of affordable housing and social security benefits on low-income families not, he added.

“They don’t have a lot of experience or personal knowledge of what we deal with on a daily basis,” Adams said. “It’s like having a boss who has never worked there before trying to tell you what to do. “

If he can find candidates he can believe in and who “strengthen their communities,” he said, he plans to vote in November.

Anna Ringel, 19, and Evin Berry, 18, walked hand-in-hand on a sidewalk in front of one of the college buildings.

Her three words on the current political climate: “Out of control,” said Ringel. “Greedy, selfish, manipulative,” Berry said.

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Ringel and Berry both said they don’t discuss politics in their circle of friends because conversations can quickly turn nasty.

“We’re divided, but also defensively,” Berry said. “Confirmation bias is one thing. We don’t talk about politics because it causes arguments. That’s taboo.”

Young man in dark blue t-shirt and young woman in light blue t-shirt, both with backpacks, stand together on sidewalk of parking lot.

Kansas City, Kansas, community college students Evin Berry and Anna Ringel said they pay attention to politics and the news and said they would vote. But they said politicians only care about raising money to get elected and not what young people really need.

The two said they are trying to keep abreast of the issues, but it’s difficult to know what to believe when it’s so difficult to have informed conversations.

Like most young people, they consume most of their news online and on social media. Ringel said not enough politicians are sharing information on platforms young people are on, so she finds it difficult to get updates on where they stand.

“For me, there are a lot of things I don’t know about,” she said. “So how am I supposed to vote if I don’t know what’s happening, what the truth is?

Pockets of optimism

The first word that came to Manny Jaime’s mind was “progressive.”

“There’s still a lot to do,” he said the 19-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, who wanted to work out at a gym at the Red Bridge Shopping Center in south Kansas City. “But we have a new generation of people with a progressive mindset.”

Jaime, a Latino and registered Democrat, wears baggy sweatpants and a badly worn 2008 Final Four T-shirt and says he avoids the poison on the news and on social media. He tries to lead by example by engaging in civil conversations.

“If someone comes up to me and starts talking to me about their Republican views, I will listen to them,” he said. “I’m not going to shut them out completely just because I have my values. I can record stuff from both sides.”

Young people may be skeptical and distrustful of the current political system, but Jaime said when he turned 18 and started thinking about voting, he realized that the things he heard on the news – student loan waivers, immigration restrictions – would directly affect his life.

“I saw how important it is,” he said. “So at the next election, yes, I will definitely vote.”





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