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Young Australians’ Fascination with American Politics

NIKITA BYRNES | FEATURES



We’re a few months into 2021 and like everyone else, I’m questioning how the year has already flown by so fast.


But for me, it doesn’t feel like 2021. I mean, what defining event was there that not only brought in the new year, but demonstrably cut off the old one? There wasn’t one. The Coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop waging its war just because the year ended. Climate anxieties were not sated, even though government officials were repeatedly pleaded with to do something. The world didn’t stop spinning, though it felt like it might. It feels like the events of the hellish meme-year called 2020 never really came to an end, even though fireworks and ridiculous televised events told us otherwise.


I look back at 2020 and remember a petrifying pandemic, lockdown after lockdown and the use of medical masks stepping into the Western consciousness. But I also remember something else which defined 2020: the American Presidential Election.


During that time where Americans faced their obligations to vote, it felt like us young’uns in Australia were the ones providing answers and sharing information on our Instagram stories, speaking out against the spread of misinformation that was inciting violence on a level we couldn’t really understand from our isolated island continent.


We were sharing posts about the significance of the electoral commission. We were looking at Biden’s administrative policies and condemning Trump in every conversation that would almost inevitably turn to politics.


At one such conversation with friends, I was struck by what felt like a thunderous and significant sense of resistance to this topic of Trump’s eternal immorality. Why did we care about these things?


“We are not Americans!” I thought. “This shouldn’t be our problem!”


But inevitably, my conversations with friends, family and even strangers, continued to turn to the state of American politics. And inevitably, our inconsequential opinions on different popular figures were expressed.


When we turn our discussions to politics why shouldn’t we be discussing our own politics? Instead of Trump, why don’t you tell me your thoughts on Jacqui Lambie?! —Actually, I take that back. Please don’t.


But more than that, why does my belief that Australians should be more invested in Australian politics seem like a political statement in itself?


So, my central question is: why do young Australians care more about American politics than politics and government structures back home? I’ve come up with some theories.


Maybe it’s because we want someone who looks at the world with the same anxieties that we do, someone who knows how to use the technology that we grew up on to connect with us. Maybe we want our own version of someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We want someone like Cortez who constantly asks, ‘What if a better world is possible?’


Cortez, or ‘The Notorious AOC’ as she is colloquially nicknamed, is an out-spoken, articulate congresswoman for the Bronx and Queens in New York. She is significantly younger than many congresspeople and she is an educated, culturally and self-aware American, who has made a career out of her empathetic identity. Cortez is the Gen-Z favourite on a global scale.


When I interviewed Macquarie University students about their thoughts on this, one response I received was as follows:


Q: Do you believe that young Australians know more about American politics/government structures?


A: “Young Australians (and really everyone) are more interested in the identities of politics. […] Biden is just another cis-gendered, straight, centre-right white man in power and if he keeps his head underwater (like our good friend Scomo palming off 87% of questions asked to him to other MPs) then people won't know about the damage he causes.”

  • Dom Serov (5th year B Arts / B Laws)


I mostly agree with Dom on this point. I think a huge part of connecting with young people is connecting through identities — our lives are so centred around showing people who and what we identify with immediately, whether that be through our Instagram bios or Tinder profiles. We need politicians to connect with us on that more immediate level, like AOC does. Problem is, I can’t think of an Australian version of AOC.


We want people who are invested in our youth, because we are the youth! Our politicians need to tell us upfront the policies they support and those they don’t and we want them not to be afraid to go for what they think is right. We don’t want reticent politicians mucking around, refusing to condemn those who are doing the wrong things —I’m looking at you, ScoMo.


Q: Do you believe that young Australians know more about American politics/government structures?


A: “Yes, I would say that most young Australians definitely know more about American politics due to the increase in online engagement and entertainment largely influenced by the American media. Social media algorithms and owners of news services have a large influence in the exposure of politics and its reports. For example, tweets and comments made by American politicians are dramatised, become ‘viral’ and provide entertainment for young Australians to comment on due to their belief of not being affected.”

  • Anonymous (2nd year B Laws / B Social Science)


This was a recurrent theme in my interviews with students. The main point of contact we have with public figures is online. It grants access to people that were once inaccessible. But maybe this is part of the problem, maybe this global social environment is too large. As this student said, American politicians are definitely more centred in media algorithms. Are we or are we not affected by this? In terms of online engagement, we definitely are.


Q: Do you personally have a bigger investment in American politics/government policies than Australian politics/government policies?


A: “Personally, I do my best to keep up with a lot of what is going on domestically however, Australian politics is not as accessible for young people as American policies and government are. It is easier to understand and follow American politics when global news and media focus predominantly on that area.”

  • Madeline Franjic (2nd year B Laws / B Environment)


As a law student myself with many significant gaps in what I feel is primary-school-level knowledge, I must admit that I have had to re-educate myself about Australian policies and government structures over and over again. Even though understanding government is a significant part of my degree, it hasn’t been seared into my brain the same way that American government structures have. Media exposure of American politics may be too bright it seems.


Think about it this way, knowing basic information about American politics seems normal to the average Australian. But can you imagine the average American knowing anything about the politics of any other country?


Didn’t think so.


Q: What is a significant societal/political issue in Australia that is not addressed enough by young people because they are more invested in American politics?


A: “A great example of this investment in American issues is racial inequality and systemic racism. The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the injustice still faced by POC, particularly in America. In Australia, this issue was not addressed with the same vigour and investment that young Australians were able to contribute to the American protest movements, despite systemic racism being incredibly prevalent here and impacting our First Nations communities detrimentally.”

  • Madeline Franjic (2nd year B Laws / B Environment)


This is the biggest point of contention for me. Shouldn’t the inequalities and injustices faced by our First Nations peoples be one of our biggest national priorities? Why doesn’t this subject attract the most amount of attention in our daily media? Probably something to do with the Australian peoples’ hidden biases and collective intent to ‘sweep it under the rug’.


Here are my main take-aways from my interviews and ruminations on this subject: firstly, I think we need a greater national concentration on teaching our young people about Australian government structures and politics and secondly, it seems clear to me that the ‘apolitical’ young person doesn’t exist, only an oblivious one.

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