Evaluating political apathy


Maria Eberhart and Anna Mason

Economics teacher Lynda Motiram was not surprised by students’ apparent lack of political awareness.

“They don’t see their congressman, they don’t know what legislation affects their lives, or what’s up to debate,” Motiram said. “The government is not for teenagers.”

In a spot survey conducted during all lunch periods, only 21 percent of students know of a Maryland senator and just 22 percent know a congressman. According to a report published in Politico, these numbers are consistent with national levels demonstrating that only 18 percent of those aged 18 to 24 know the names of their senators.

Sophomore Emma Blair believes that politics is a difficult subject to broach in schools.

“Politics are really controversial right now and we don’t want to involve ourselves with that if we don’t have to,” Blair said.

Blair also said that friendships often suffer as a result of opposing political viewpoints.

Social studies teacher Chad Boyle attributes this dearth of knowledge to widespread apathy among students who do not think that any level of government, federal or local, directly affects their daily lives.

With the gubernatorial election Nov. 6, students of voting age shared their opinions on candidates and the value of civic engagement.
Senior Max Parra is planning on voting for incumbent Larry Hogan, believing that he has succeeded in avoiding identity and partisan politics and has appeased both sides of the political spectrum.

Other students, like senior Lucy Hughes, are enthused to witness the political process in action.

“I’m excited to see the process first-hand, even as simple as it may be,” Hughes said. “I’ll be a part of something much bigger.”

Certain students took their involvement a step further. Senior Rebecca Allen, for example, spent part of her summer volunteering for Second District Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s campaign for county executive. Almond finished third in the closely contested Democratic primary June 26, and victor Johnny Olszewski Jr. won by just 17 votes. Allen canvassed with Almond and interacted with her constituents about their priorities and hopes for their district’s future.

“I know now more than ever that voting in our elections is extremely important and our votes do matter,” Allen said. “Having that validation from someone in public office is wildly comforting and I urge everyone to reach out to their local politicians, because they really will listen to you.”

However, fractures are becoming increasingly apparent.

According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats are currently more divided along ideological lines than at any other point in history. Over the past twenty years, Democrats have increasingly shifted to the left while Republicans have increasingly shifted to the right. Within each political party, the percentage of members with an unfavorable opinion of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994.

Teachers have noticed the trend towards polarization.

“What worries me is that we retreat into our ideological goalpost,” Motiram said. “We start only thinking the news that we think is right is correct and everything else is labeled as fake news. That is a really dangerous thing for a democracy.”

But teachers and students alike stressed the importance of local politics.

“It’s much easier to get your voice heard on a more local level,” senior Kate Whatley said, who is interning at a local representative’s office. “If it’s something that you care about, then I think everyone should vote.”

Social studies teacher Sean Bowmaster, however, remains skeptical about the enduring power of politics among teenagers.
“If something doesn’t directly impact their lives it comes and goes, as quick as a meme,” Bowmaster said.