JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, younger voters made a big difference for, as you know, President Obama in his two elections, but like most others, their numbers drop in midterms.
That made us wonder how interested they are this go-round. So, in collaboration with our Student Reporting Lab, we spoke with high school students around the country.
Our political reporter and editor Lisa Desjardins began the conversation by asking them to look at some of this year’s ads.
MAN: So go ahead and hit space bar on that.
STUDENT: All right.
LISA DESJARDINS: We sat down with teens from our Student Reporting Labs in three states with high-profile Senate contests, Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado.
TERRI LYNN LAND, Michigan Senatorial Candidate: I’m Terri Lynn Land.
LISA DESJARDINS: The idea? To understand how this generation sees campaign ads and politics.
WOMAN: Think about that for a moment.
DAEZSA PRICE, Pleasure Ridge Park High School, Kentucky: This has not, like, helped me to choose who I want to vote for at all.
LISA DESJARDINS: We learned they are not impressed.
DAEZSA PRICE: Because, like, I don’t know what to believe. It was two completely different facts trying to state the same thing, but they were completely different. It didn’t make any sense. I don’t know what to believe, what not to believe.
GEORGIE ABBY, Royal Oak High School, Michigan: I sort of tune out ads that are always about what the other opponent is doing wrong or what the other opponent is saying, because, if you really believe in these things and if you really believe that you can help other people, you should talk about the things that you can do to help other people.
JAN LEIGHLEY, American University: The argument is that people young people might not be voting as much as older people, but they in fact are engaged and committed and a fine generation politically. It’s just that they’re expressing their politics using different methods or means.
LISA DESJARDINS: Jan Leighley is a political science professor at American University who specializes in voter turnout and what motivates different groups. She sees a young group right now that cares about issues, but not politics, this when political parties are launching ads, writing blogs, enjoying all manner of methods to get young people in their tents.
CASEY LINENBERG, Royal Oak High School, Michigan: I get e-mails, probably like five a day from the Democratic Party, trying to get me to participate, when I think a lot of the process is lost in just campaigning. I think it’s based in putting money into ads like this, and just trying to get votes, instead of trying to get policy changed.
JAN LEIGHLEY: Well, they are coming of age where they see a politics of polarization and personalization, and a lot of big problems, and a perception of gridlock, and the government — the government not doing its job. And they don’t want to engage.
LISA DESJARDINS: We learned something else, too, about what young people do trust. To use a trendy word, they curate their information. They trust sources they themselves find and know.
ROBERT WILSON, Royal Oak High School, Michigan: I think campaign ads put this almost like a plastic cover over who they are. You don’t know who they are because they’re — they’re aiming to please. But I think the real way to choose who you vote for is to do your own research. And I think that means going to different news Web sites or magazines or stations, watching them.
CASEY LINENBERG: I prefer to get a real — real information, not just the biased argument on TV that often seems — you know, everybody is saying what other people are saying is untrue. So then it leads me to not trust anyone. So I prefer to read online or find out from sources I trust.
LISA DESJARDINS: There is a real sense of the endgame with these young people. Do campaigns mean anything? Their answer seems to be no. Does voting matter?
KEENAN PENN II, Fraser High School, Michigan: If I’m voting, I’m putting my input into something that could make a difference in my community. There are several things that can change, and I feel like, if I’m trying to put forth an effort to help change those things, something could happen.
LISA DESJARDINS: So, note to any campaigns which lose with young voters tonight: This group wants facts, and they want results.
Lisa Desjardins, PBS NewsHour.