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For this Kansas City voter, the 2024 presidential race shows young people are being ignored

A man hold up an strange paint of a dark figure standing on mountain of skull while holding an American flag.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Luke Kasunic, 25, holds one of many pieces of artwork he's made in recent weeks.

A young Waldo resident says he won’t vote for either presidential candidate this fall because he thinks they're too old. He believes the increasing age of candidates shows America’s political system does not serve young people. A growing number of voters under 30 agree with him.

Luke Kasunic painted most of the art that hangs in his Waldo home. The 25-year-old also built a fair amount of his furniture from scratch and grew many of the fruits and vegetables that sit in his kitchen.

He believes people should create more than they consume in all aspects of their lives. Recently, he’s focused on one area he thinks desperately needs something new: politics.

“It’s this rat race of issues that some think-tank pitched to some party that would galvanize voters,” says Kasunic. “What matters is making decisions that help people. We’ve fallen away from that into this series of three to five issues that everyone yells about but nothing gets done.”

Kasunic says his votes follow a pattern, but he finds it increasingly difficult to identify with a particular party or candidate.

A man stands in an office and points at a stack of paintings.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Kasunic, 25, give a short tour of the room that serves as both his home office and art studio.

“I could tell you what my biases are, but I don’t think I could put myself in [the system]. I’m not on the chart,” he explains.

He’s settled on describing himself as post-political, a label most commonly used for a move away from the combative side of political discourse.

To him, it means he detests the state of American politics, and believes it can’t put forward candidates who serve their constituents’ best interests, especially at the national level.

A recent CBS News poll shows that nearly 50% of voters under 30 say that no candidate running in the upcoming presidential election understands their needs and concerns for the country.

“In a weird way that makes me feel well,” Kasunic says. “It’s a good sign we can all recognize that the choices in front of us aren’t that great.”

‘The biggest issue is age’

In this year’s presidential election, one concern has risen above the rest for Kasunic.

“I would describe myself as a single issue voter, and that issue is age,” Kasunic explains. “I don’t feel like anyone is properly incentivized to safeguard the future if they aren’t going to live in it.”

Kasunic says he’s never voted for a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate because he’s concerned about their age. Instead, he’s written in a name.

He says that the policy decisions he’s watched aging politicians make in the last few years in areas such as climate change and education made him view them as selfish individuals only interested in maintaining the status quo.

"Their incentive is to protect their retirement, both the financial stability and also the social stability of it,” Kasunic says. “[Also] you ask any neuroscientist when cognitive decline starts, they’ll say it’s around 70.”

A man stands on a gravel trail in a suburban neighborhood.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Kasunic says he cares a lot more about local politics than national. He tries his best to stay informed on what's going on in Kansas City and in his small neighborhood of Waldo.

Although some experts on aging say Biden’s actions don’t show cognitive decline that jeopardize his ability to be president, Kasunic isn’t alone in his concern among potential voters his age, especially when looking at the presidency.

The CBS News Poll shows that more than 50% of voters say Donald Trump’s age will factor in how they vote. That number jumps to nearly 70% for President Joe Biden, something his campaign has struggled to address.

“It’s like the delta of age de-competence,” says Kasunic. “The fact that all the candidates are the same age and they’re all this old is insane to me.”

‘Everyone is too political’

Kasunic believes electing more young people is a quick way to improve the issues he sees with American politics.

He also believes that voters, especially those his age, need to disconnect themselves from what he sees as the 24/7 media circus that American politics have become.

“I think everyone is way too political,” Kasunic says. “We need to create good systems that allow us to stay informed but that also don’t push us to obsess over things like ‘Oh this certain person just said this one specific thing on one specific issue, and that has to change my view of them.’”

Kasunic worries the whirlpool of information and opinions news outlets present has convinced young people they must make snap decisions on far-reaching issues they don’t fully understand.

A man stands in a house and points at painting of trees on the wall.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Kasunic, 25, showcases one of his finished paintings hung on his wall.

He believes the media overemphasizes how his generation feels about a certain issue, like the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

This spring saw weeks of national coverage of the protests that sprang up on college campuses all across the country, and several outlets have reported on Biden’s handling of the crisis hurting his campaign.

Kasunic, like more than half of Americans under 30, supports a permanent ceasefire. However, he thinks the media has overblown how Biden's handling of a ceasefire deal will play into how he votes.

“It is a humanitarian crisis and is a big deal,” says Kasunic. “Do I think it’s the number one issue, god no.”

A recent Harvard Youth Poll shows that voters under 30 ranked the crisis in Gaza 15th of 16 major issues heading into this election that they want addressed by the next president. Inflation, health care and housing topped the list.

‘Be as individuated as one can be’

Kasunic’s major issue this election cycle is mental health care. He feels today’s politicians make decisions that actively harm his generation’s future, leading to the spike in mental health issues among young people.

“We’re [hurting] young people to maintain the stability of the older generations’ retirement,” he says. “That’s a scary thing.”

In Kasunic’s eyes, there's only one real way out of the mess: finding new ways to define personal politics by creating more individualized and nuanced belief systems.

For him, that looks like moving away from traditional political discourse and the binary it offers.

An American flag flies out an blue house.
Zach Perez
KCUR 89.3
Kasunic, 25, keeps an American flag up outside his house most days. When asked why, he said, "Because I live in America."

However, he knows his life experience is not universal. He thinks a lot of things about his beliefs could have ended up differently had he been born into different circumstances, like being an immigrant or a person of color.

“I'd say the experiences and information I've taken in have led me to believe the things I believe,” he says. “Yes, I'd probably believe something different if I had grown up differently, because if I had different experiences I wouldn't be me, I would be someone else.”

To Kasunic, that’s an incredible thing. He believes we all participate in what he calls a “beautiful system of distributed cognition” where we think different things, and have the mechanism to share them with each other, shape perspective and alter the way we think about the world.

“If everyone thought the same things, we would all just be everyone else, and not ourselves,” he says. “One should strive to be as individuated as one can be.”

As KCUR’s Community Engagement Producer, I help welcome our audiences into the newsroom, and bring our journalism out into the communities we serve. Many people feel overlooked or misperceived by the media, and KCUR needs to do everything we can to cover and empower the diverse communities that make up the Kansas City metro — especially the ones who don’t know us in the first place. My work takes the form of reporting stories, holding community events, and bringing what I’ve learned back to Up To Date and the rest of KCUR.

What should KCUR be talking about? Who should we be talking to? Let me know. You can email me at zjperez@kcur.org or message me on Twitter at @zach_pepez.
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