This is a question posed by a recent NYTimes article. Working with students as a teacher, adviser, and mentor is what I do, so I think I have a pretty good perspective on this issue. The last Presidential election awakened a huge enthusiasm and an impressive degree of political activism among college students. They all organized, discussed, and celebrated when Obama was elected. Since then, this young generation of voters has seen rising levels of unemployment, diminishing prospects even for semi-decent employment, pauperization of their hard-working parents, more troops allocated to un unwinnable war of uncertain motivation in Afghanistan, endless cuts in education, rising tuition, loss of student scholarships, and mounting debt.
As a result, many students are not planning to vote at all this November. In my Intermediate Spanish II course, we covered politics as a topic. Students were generally very indifferent and disillusioned whenever anything political was discussed. The consensus among them was that politicians lie and cheat and cannot be trusted. The word "government" provoked a collective wince. There is no wonder than in this environment my Bible Belt students, who have already been brainwashed to a high degree by the religious Right, have turned to the Tea Party insanity.
Political activism is something for which young people have a natural affinity. being young menas being idealistic, full of energy and desiring to change the world. Still, both the Democrats and the Republicans have no interest in fresh ideas coming from the younger generations. Young people are expected to vote and shut up. And then be prepared to be shipped to Afghanistan to fight yet another losing battle. It is no wonder that this type of political involvement doesn't appeal to the young. The Tea Party, with its seeming defiance of authority and its loud rallies, attracts my students a lot more. Of course, support for the Tea Party equals support for the more radical fringe of the Republicn Party, which young people (and many older people as well) fail to understand.