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How to Get More Young People Involved in Politics

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 14/11/2015 Brian Hanley

It's Saturday night and I'm waiting for the second Democratic debate to kick off. My roommates are in the other room setting their fantasy football lineups.

It's a huge year for fantasy sports, if you haven't noticed. It's hard to go a day without seeing a FanDuel or DraftKings commercial, usually featuring an average guy telling you how much money he won and how much you're missing out.

It's also a huge year for politics. After seven long years, the Obama-era has reached its final chapter. In 2016, the United States of America will elect its 45th President and the next chapter of American history will begin.

However, you wouldn't know that we're a nation on the brink of political transformation if you observed my roommates on debate night. It's business as usual here. One roommate is watching SportsCenter, another is arguing DeMarco Murray's upside, and a third is simulating an entire season of Madden 2016.

But before you call my roommates a bunch of ignorant jocks, I should tell you: they're all smart, college graduates who have good jobs and watch sports to relax. Fantasy football is by no means a distraction for them. It's an extension of their love for sports. Plus it has the added value of paying out cash.

Besides, it's not that they don't care about politics. They do. But they also do have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to presidential elections. After all, they saw what happened to Al Gore in Florida in 2000, and that really left a stain.

Like many young people, my roommates don't feel connected to the political process. They view American politics as a corrupt system controlled by big money, which serves the interests of big money, and functions this way with or without their participation. My roommates aren't the only ones who feel this way.
In general, Millennials report feeling disconnected from American politics. No wonder political science is a dying major. No wonder 18-through-24-year-old voting rates declined from over 50 percent in 1964 to just 38 percent in 2012.
Millennials are also unique in that they're getting married and buying homes later than the generations before them. Take my roommates, for example. As 24-year-olds, they don't have much skin in the political game. In other words, none of them have children and none of them own real estate. In their minds, they don't have all that much to lose or gain from a new POTUS.
This brings me to the most important point. My roommates don't have the patience to follow a presidential election season that lasts a grueling 596 days. They live in a world where instant gratification is the expectation, where Tweets are often too long to read. They'd much prefer to follow an NFL season that lasts 17 weeks than a campaign season that drags out for two years.
The fact is, short attention spans are characteristic of both Generation Y and Generation Z. Millennials and Post-Millennials are addicted to ephemeral media and consume it whenever they get the chance.
They post Snapchats and Vines and it's all about now. It's all about being concise. They're living in an increasingly on-demand society where they can't even wait for cabs anymore. They've created, and were created by, the age of impatience.
It seems abundantly clear that if we want more young people to get involved in American politics, we first need to seriously reconsider the length of our campaign seasons. As John Oliver joked, "I have no interest whatsoever in the 2016 election, at the start of 2015." He may have been joking, but I know for a fact that my roommates feel the same way.

They're living in a country with a corrupt campaign finance system and election seasons that span the time of two Game of Thrones' seasons. They're sick and tired of the constant mudslinging. They're sick and tired of the negative ads.

The reality is, I don't blame them for missing the presidential debates because frankly, I'm just about fed up with America politics myself. It's easy to feel betrayed by the political process when for two years you can give everything to a campaign like Al Gore's and then watch it all fall apart one November night.
I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned from the absurdity that fantasy football has become. Companies like FanDuel and DraftKings are pros when it comes to enticing young people to get involved. Part of their value proposition is that there's no long-term commitment to play.

On the contrary, presidential campaigns last far too long to sustain young people's interest. In fact, it's not just young people who have had enough. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of all Americans think campaign seasons are too long. Yet the campaigns continue to run longer.

The length of these campaigns has created the need for candidates to raise larger and larger sums of money. How else can they afford to finance such a long race? The result is a campaign finance system dictated by the top 1% and super PACs.

If only young people in this country knew and cared half as much about politics as they do fantasy football, we'd be twice the democracy that we are today. In a true democracy, we'd demand more qualified candidates. We'd demand more substantive debates. But most importantly, we'd demand a political process that works for all of the people, and not just a handful of billionaires.

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