Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Andrew Wedeman

Second Advisor

Ryan Carlin

Third Advisor

Kim Reimann

Fourth Advisor

Maria Repnikova

Abstract

Studies on young people’s political engagement commonly fall along the binary of engagement or disengagement. Young people’s political disengagement is typically captured by declining membership in political parties, low voter turnout, and political apathy. The engagement paradigm maintains that young people are increasingly turning to the digital space to engage politically. Though the representation of young people’s disengagement in politics may seem clear, how today’s young people understand politics, political engagement, and what meaningful political engagement means to them continue to be contested. Specifically in recent years, East Asian and Southeast Asian young people’s relationship with politics is experiencing significant transformation. Young people in these regions are increasingly at the forefront seeking for political changes, standing up to authoritarianism, and demanding accountability from their leaders. They are exhibiting attitudes and behaviors that depart from the Asian Values concept that demands obedience to authority and political consensus over confrontation. Young people from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Taiwan are ideal research participants considering the deep influence of the Asian Values concept in these societies. This study uses online focus group interview to gain a deeper understanding of young people’s attitudes towards politics, political engagement, and digital engagement, how young people perceive the challenges to their political engagement, and what being politically engaged truly means to them. To understand if there is a difference between how young people and the older generation perceive politics and political engagement, this study recruits young people, non-Millennials, and non-Gen-Z participants for an online survey. The interviews reveal that while young people from different societies perceive politics differently, they largely associate political engagement with digital engagement. They share similar challenges to engaging in politics – institution-, personal-, and society-related challenges. The online survey uncovers an interesting finding. Not only do young people and the older generation have similar perceptions of politics, but they also share similar perceptions of political engagement. This study proposes two policy recommendations to better include young people in politics. Today’s young people represent a generation ready for opportunities. We must recognize them as agents of change, capable of making meaningful contributions.

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