10/31/2012 03:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Wondering Why Young People Don't Vote? Better to Ask Why Any Do

This video originally appeared on The New York Times Web site.

In the 2008 presidential election, roughly half of eligible voters from age 18 to 24 voted. An even smaller share of young voters is expected in 2012. I wanted to find out why. So I called more than 50 people under the age of 40 into a studio, and asked them.

They told me that the federal government works like a machine, and that changing presidents means little more than changing the picture they hang up at the post office. That it's an hour gone from their day, with little to show for it. The issues they care about -- climate change, civil rights, the war on drugs, prisons -- are almost never discussed, and there is such a gulf between what candidates say they will do and what they do in office that it's impossible to trust anyone.

These are reasons that I find persuasive. So my question morphed from why most young people don't vote to why some do -- the exceptions. People who do plan to go to the polls, sometimes instinctively, sometimes without knowing that they've made the right choice.

They all have commonsense reasons of their own. Young women feel that their rights are being threatened. Law students recognize that the character of the Supreme Court depends upon who wins on November 6. First-time voters and immigrants. They, at the end of the day, don't trust their aunt, or their roommate, or the owner of the New York Jets, with the course of the nation.

To vote at all is an odd leap of faith. Calling it a civic duty is not enough. Either you believe that the system is both changeable and worth changing, or you don't -- and many new voters are not convinced. I was recently called an idealistic cynic. I don't know whether I'm an idealistic cynic or a cynical idealist, but I do believe that we have to act to make the world a better place even if we know we may utterly fail in the attempt. Voting is a perfect example.

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