What effects of political language are named by the young people?

The effects of political language described on young people’s participation in political debate and on their commitment and willingness to learn about politics are considerable. They can essentially be arranged along an axis between the poles of “democracy-promoting” and “democracy-destroying.”

Rarely did the group interviews report their own political involvement. The young people then reported on the joy of working together with like-minded people – but also on the fact that they are sometimes less popular with their fellow students because they take a stand and thus cause conflicts.

Political commitment makes sense and is fun, but it can also isolate people socially

“I was enrolled in the Junge Union for a short time. And have many friends from the SPD, the CDU, Antifa also a few. I’m very interested in politics and read the newspaper every day, so rather three than one.” (Upper secondary school)

“I’m in the Left Party. We organize demonstrations. Everything extra-parliamentary, of course. We don’t have much to do with parliament.” (High school)

“You are put in such corners because of your political opinion. And the sympathies are based on that. You’re very quickly pigeonholed like that. You’re personally unsympathetic because you argue differently.” (High school)

“For example, we have a GSV and a district student committee. These committees you can occupy to make your voice heard and point out problems. In addition, we still voluntarily formed a committee to generally throw the issue of school policy into the round. Because that’s not an issue at all. But there it’s just so that we don’t have many listeners and are also hostile.” (High school)

It happened more often that people described how a sudden flare-up of political interest was systematically transformed into an active discussion of the topic in question.

This happens, for example, by picking up headlines while on the road, which are then specifically read up on at home – usually on the Internet. This targeted use of media is intended to lead to a well-founded, well-rounded opinion on relevant political issues. Conversations take place more frequently, albeit rather randomly.

Occasionally, behavioral characteristics emerged – albeit unconsciously – among the interviewees that had also been criticized among politicians: Demarcation from those whose (political) education was rated lower than their own.

Going to the polls is seen as a duty to be performed in the future.

Interest in and active engagement with political issues – a spectrum ranging from the principle of chance to opinion puzzles and comparative research

“I actually only ever come across such topics by chance. For example, when I’m on the Internet and want to check my e-mails, I usually look at the home page and there are already such current topics listed. Or when I make my sandwiches for school in the morning, I also turn on the radio and listen to such things. So that’s always random, but regular.” (Upper secondary school center)

Pupil: “In the evening or daytime news, things from the Senate are always shown. And newspapers say that such and such a politician said such and such and that he belongs to the party. And on the radio they sometimes say something, as a media source.”

Interviewer: “That is, you assemble your information from many different sources and decide (…)”
Student: “Who is closest to my opinion, yes.” (High school)

“I look at several sources and then decide on one that also sounds trustworthy. Or easiest.” (high school)

Interviewer: “And where do you get your information?”
Student: “On the Internet and from the library.”
Interviewer: “From the library?”
Student: “Yeah, I’m actually there almost every other weekend.” (High school)

Internet: Omnipotent tool, source for individually appropriate level of information – nevertheless not an unrestricted medium of trust

“When I listen to the radio, for example, or read the newspaper or watch TV (…) then I look to see if the topic interests me, and if it does, then I just look it up on the Internet. Because the Internet is the most informative platform, I think. It’s actually logical, because the newspaper articles are on the Internet, everything is on the Internet.” (Upper School Center)

Student: “If we don’t understand anything at school, we ask the teacher to explain it to us. At home, I googled.”
Interviewer: “Where do you google, so what sites do you sort of get stuck on, where do you look up?”
Student: “I type in the word and always look where it’s most descriptive. It’s not a specific page.” (High school senior)

“Now if I want to know something specific, I look it up on the Internet. But if I just want to catch up on politics, I watch TV when the news and stuff is on.” (Secondary school I)

“I don’t know, so if you really want to know something, then of course also newspaper, Internet, but then there really has to be a topic first that really interests you a lot.” (High school)

“With many things I then look again, then I google again to have other sources again.” (high school)

“I would go on the Internet and type in a little bit and then read. But internet sometimes lies. I have to see it for myself and convince myself.” (Vocational school)

Political conceptual certainty increases one’s own social status

“Our relatives live in Chicago. That’s really not meant to be derogatory. But my mother informs herself a lot for her job, of course, and that’s why she tells me a lot. And we took a look at their newspaper and it’s really, really terrible. It’s a bit better than the ‘Bild’ at home.” (High school)

Discussions take place in a private context that is perceived as relaxed – or in good “PW” lessons

“It sometimes happens that we just pick up a topic and start discussing it. Sometimes it’s very funny. I also have older acquaintances and they are a bit more highly educated, so I like to listen to them. I usually say less because I have to admit to myself: ‘I just don’t have that much of a clue. But sometimes it’s really amazing what comes out of you.” (Vocational school)

“You know your friends and you know what they’re interested in to some extent, and if you know that could also interest them, then you talk about it. Not hour-long debates, but it is mentioned then times briefly in the break. So dropped and either it is taken up or not. It is then taken up more often, but is then also done again after three or four minutes.” (High school)

“Last year in eleventh grade, PW was offered as a profile course. So I thought, ‘Cool, I’ll go in.’ Then I was there and I liked it a lot. Because it’s a lot of fun, because we just discuss a lot.” (High school)

Voting as a balancing act between civic duty and one’s own conscience

Student: “I wouldn’t say that a non-voter is not interested in politics. I know a few non-voters who are very, very interested in politics. But are just totally dissatisfied with current politics. I would say that too.”
Student: “Yes, that’s actually also the main reason for disenchantment with politics, that many people just don’t feel represented anymore.” (Vocational school)

“I definitely think it’s good that you can vote.” (Vocational school)

“I do think it’s important to go and vote. Then you would definitely have to find out beforehand what exactly the parties want.” (Upper secondary school)

“This mayoral election, I would already go vote. In terms of the city of Berlin, it’s important. But otherwise it’s not so important.” (high school)

Pupil: “2013 is again Bundestag election, 2009 was elected.”
Schoolgirl: “Cool, then I can already vote.”
Pupil: “Of course you vote there.” (Secondary school I)

“Whether I’m going to vote now, I don’t know yet. I would also inform myself beforehand. I would decide before then, so not yet. So I don’t know exactly.” (Gymnasium)

“I think if you are interested in politics, then you should do it properly and not just halfway, always just go to the polls, just vote for anyone. So if, then already really completely or not at all.” (Vocational school)

“I would also say, I am actually in principle inclined to go and vote and would inform myself beforehand. But first see if there’s a party at all that can represent me accordingly, once I’ve dealt with the program.” (High school)

Frequently expressed in the interviews was the low hope of really being able to have a say in decision-making. Here, “the little man” and “the people” were often mentioned, who have no chance for change and therefore do not inform themselves or participate in the elections.

Occasionally, this passive attitude was accompanied by a carefree fatalism that assumes that the political system will take care of itself and thus maintain the functions of the state. It was also assumed that this could be allowed to happen in Germany because the political system was stable enough.

Fatalism, resignation and cynicism from the perspective of the “little guy”

Student: “Well, the little citizens can’t do anything, only theoretically.”
Pupil: “If everyone unites, then yes, but (…)”
Pupil: “Everyone just rants and then they do nothing.”
Pupil: “Oh, you just elect one and if that one screws up, he gets deposed, the next one comes to power.” (Secondary school I)

Interviewer: “Are there also positive aspects that you associate with politics?”
Student: “No, politics is just such a black, empty box and nothing comes after that.” (Vocational school)

“It’s funny, when everything is so indebted, there’s actually no tax reduction at all in the next few years. But everyone still promises that. I don’t know either. So I think I would also have to be elected, I promise the blue of the sky.” (Vocational school)

“I can vote for the parties, but I don’t really have a big say in what they get through. So it’s not really that important whether I vote for the party or them.” (High school)

“I think that too many people in Germany are affected by unemployment or health insurance or tax increases. That they just don’t feel like participating anymore, because they just feel so badly treated that they say, ‘Now I’m not voting there either, because nothing changes anyway.'” (High school)

“After all, we as a people are practically under a government and we can’t really do anything.” (High school)

“I don’t have the feeling that we don’t get enough information. But rather that the politicians are not interested in what we are doing. And that you have the feeling that you can’t change anything anyway.” (High school)

“I think it’s already too late to change anything. You should have made sure from the start that people were more interested in politics. Now everyone has their attitude anyway, and the young people don’t have any interest in politics at all. At school, they’re not interested in politics either.” (Secondary school I)

Interviewer: “Why do you say democracy in quotes? Do you think we don’t have democracy?”
Student: “No, not really. A constitutional state, but that’s all, I think.” (Secondary school I)

Pupil: “I was on a school-leaving trip. And suddenly we didn’t have a federal president anymore. But at that time, to be honest, it didn’t interest me.” [laughs]
Student: “For me, it was just a funny feeling. But I didn’t give it a lot of thought. We have other politicians to do that.”
Pupil: “Yes, then there was also quickly a new one and then it was just so.” (Vocational school)

“I think that if the system works for so long, no one will want to change anything about it either. At the moment it still works and solutions for our problems do not exist. Why would anyone want to change anything as long as it is still working?” (Vocational school)

“We could just throw the nuclear waste into space. It’s going to land somewhere. Even if it hits the moon. It doesn’t matter so much, it’ll still light up.” (Vocational school)

Refusal of political information is respected in others and allowed oneself – for lack of knowledge, interest or time

“You can’t force interest on anyone. I mean, if it’s not interesting to other people and they just don’t want to know about it, then it’s not like you can say, ‘Come on, this is so right.’ If they don’t want to, they don’t want to.” (High school)

“I think the co-determination opportunity is good. I think the other way around it’s also good that you can’t have a say if you want to. That you can also say, ‘I have other problems right now, at home or at school, and I don’t want to get five letters now with some law ideas that I have to read through, where I have to familiarize myself with the matter, have to co-decide.’ So I think it’s quite good, even if at the moment the policy is perhaps not ideal. I can’t really judge that. But I think it’s good that you can already rely on the current policy in a certain way.” (Vocational school)

“I don’t know. I’m not interested in it yet. – I think I’m still too young, I don’t understand it at all.” (Lower secondary school)

“Politics doesn’t interest me at all. My brother is very politically involved, but I’m not interested at all.” (High school)

“That’s also the reason why I’m so little involved in political education. Because from my point of view, I get so little out of it.” (Vocational school)

“Oh, I just can’t deal with this politics. I don’t understand all that.” (lower secondary school)

“My classmates were asked what they thought of politics. More than half of the class, or let’s say 99% of the class said, ‘Politics sucks’ – sorry, politics is not good. ‘I’m not interested in it. I’m doing my time here. And when we write an exam, I memorize it all quickly and then it’s good.’ But understanding it or thinking about it, nobody does.” (Vocational school)

An intensification of the image of the “little man” who cannot really have a say in decisions is the idea, also expressed, that politicians, together with the media, are controlled by an anonymous power. Often, “big industry” was suspected of being behind this.

Passive citizens prefer “the state” to informed citizens with their own opinions, who could participate politically if necessary and would therefore be uncomfortable. This opinion was often shared with or adopted by the parents.

There was a sporadic awareness that the passive attitude practiced by large parts of the population only promotes the anonymous superpower described above.

Entertainment as deliberate dumbing down of the people by the media instead of exploitation of the potential

“There are many stations that simply have such a high audience rating. Which you should just maybe use to impart knowledge instead of just entertaining.” (High school)

“The fact that you look at what’s on there, that’s really sick. It’s actually sad that something like this is shown on television. Maybe it’s also fomented by the government (…) During the day, there’s relatively little world events, but X-Diaries or I know what it’s called. Farmer Seeks Wife. So you have to be dumbed down.” (Vocational school)

“I think it’s pretty crass that people are just so jaded and only discuss what’s on TV at the moment. They actually know about the problem, but nobody cares as long as it wasn’t on TV. I think that’s also such a pretty glaring point that should be changed.” (High School)
Corrupt industrial complex controls a sham democracy that can barely be changed

“I have the feeling that the vast majority of decisions and political processes actually run under completely different shadowy things that are totally non-transparent.” (Waldorf School)

“When I think of politics, I think first of power, of money, that many politicians take advantage of their position to make more money. Or to make sure that others get less money and that all politics is really about power. Who has the most power. Who has the most money, the most weapons?” (Vocational School)

“What bothers me are the politicians who take advantage of their position, for example, to increase their own purse. In a report they showed diplomats who have to travel to the EU. They drive or fly there with their expensive jets and cars, just to sign in for a short time and then fly back to their vacation and get the money for it. But they don’t actually do anything there.” (Vocational school)

“I associate politics with people who collect money and do nothing.” (high school)

“With these conspiracy theories (…) there are people who exaggerate that. But there are things where you just have to question logically sometimes and look at the processes. Then all you really have to do is conclude. If the super-rich meet in some clubs, the richest people in the world and David Rockefeller, here ex-secret agent Kissinger and they have the worst plan of this whole world process and then meet every year and consult, supposedly do not talk about politics (…) WikiLeaks and such things could just prevent that. It’s the only way of freedom that remains. Otherwise, it’s just a huge construct that is governed by power and money. You don’t have any influence on it because you don’t have money and you don’t have power, and it’s going to stay that way. You live under capitalism.” (Vocational School)

“I think people would like to have it that way because then it would be easier. You can then say so nicely. ‘They collect money and don’t do anything and that’s why the world is so shitty.’ Instead of just getting off your own ass. (…) You can’t do anything in politics. Even if we did something now, we would fail up there at the latest, so you can’t change much. (…) You talk along, but you can’t change much.” (High school)

“My sister’s husband, for example, says: ‘Okay, I know I’m being manipulated in the media, I’m not that interested.’ He switches off and just doesn’t care. I think that’s exactly the danger.
danger that people will say: ‘Okay, I don’t understand this crap and I don’t want to see through it. That’s why it’s pushed aside, and that’s how we legitimize exactly these people who have power and money to continue to expand their power and their money thing.” (Vocational school)

Lobbying: Highly effective PR instrument of an opaque, money-driven complex

“You always have to look at the fact that, for example, phasing out nuclear energy favors one lobby or not another. After all, politics is dependent on industry to a certain extent. Industry is our main financial backer, and without money, nothing works in our system. When we look at who sponsors election campaigns, etc., we always have to ask ourselves: “What is behind all this? For example, N24 belongs to Axel Springer Verlag, they won’t report anything negative about Axel Springer Verlag, and so on. So, we have that everywhere in all systems.” (High school)

“When I think of politics, the first thing that comes to mind is the word illusion. Because politics are actually decisions, the governing of a country. But then I always think that the real decisions are not made by politics, but more by industry.” (High school)

Student: “They just try to manipulate us.” Student: “Well, I wouldn’t say manipulate directly. It’s just that maybe you don’t always hear the truth (…) it’s more the content, I guess. How everything sounds perfect, everything so smooth. Everything will be fine and there are no problems at all.” (Vocational school)

State and political actors as anonymous powers that favor will-less citizens

“Everybody thinks about themselves, no matter what party it is. We think, ‘Okay, they’re good.’ Still, they have a goal and want to achieve what they want, not what society actually wants.” (High School)

“I think that in order to keep the people flat, so that everything goes its way, so that extreme opinions don’t form and the citizens perhaps become rebellious at times or want to represent their opinion, that they just have a free hand to do what they want. Which, in the end, they do anyway, as we saw at the nuclear power demonstration. There were many, many people on the street. And then nobody was interested in that.” (High school)

“I think it’s all because the state doesn’t want us to get involved politically. The government benefits from people knowing as little as possible. Sure, you need a supply of personnel, but it all works out somehow (…) If people really asked and constantly gave contra, there would be the purest reform storm. Then nothing would work at all.” (High school)

Student “I think they also want people to live in fear.”
Student: “My dad blurted out the other day, ‘The terror alert is also just a distraction from other political problems.'”
Student: “Yes, so that people go shopping more and are more concerned with themselves. Just not with politics.” (High school)

Extreme political positions were also evident. Partly as a reaction to the feeling that politics was not tackling the problems at hand consistently enough. Otherwise, extreme positions in the conversations often ignited around the topics of integration or the effects of the welfare state.
Political disobedience up to the understanding of violence as a form of protest

Interviewer: “Are there also positive aspects that you associate with politics?”
Student: “Yes, Joschka Fischer once threw stones.” (Vocational school)

“Until the people take to the streets, nothing will happen. That’s just a fact, so you can make protests, demonstrations, whatever. It simply won’t work until there’s a real bang here in Germany. If then really the people go on the street and people die. So it sounds harsh now, but that’s just the way it is.” (High school)

Demarcation against groups perceived as different or alien

“For example, in the Spandauer Arkaden, how there are sometimes so Turkish-Arab gangs quasi I say now simply rumnerven. So that’s abnormal. I can’t tolerate that at all. I think something should be done about it. If such things are obvious, then action should be taken.” (Vocational school)

  • December 25, 2022