Youth Vote Instrumental in Obama Victory
Despite constant harangues from pundits in regards to the apathy of youth in the face of a divided political landscape, one of the deciding factors of the 2012 General Election was the 18-29 year old demographic, just as it was a critical factor in Obama’s initial 2008 victory. Roughly half of all eligible voters in this demographic turned out to the polls on election night, and despite all predictions to the contrary, this number is in fact at 18 to 19 percent of the total electorate, a stark increase over the turnout found during the 2008 Election. President Obama won the youth vote at 67 percent to 30 percent on the national level, and according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which studies the voting habits of young people, in the four critical battle ground states that tipped the election in Obama’s favor, young voters supported the president by at least 61%. Even more astonishing, most analysts now agree that without Obama’s support from young voters, Romney would’ve easily won the election.
“If you wipe out the youth vote [in those states], or if you allocate the vote for [Obama and Romney] 50-50, those states switch from blue to red,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE. “It’s enough to make Romney the next president.”
So how, and why, did young people defy the stereotype and vote in hordes in favor of the president?
In my own opinion, the outcome of the youth vote was never truly in question. While the standard view of the young voter as being too disinterested and too feckless to go to the polls was true for a time, it was only in Generation X that this apathy was truly endemic of young people. When Gen X made up the youth demographic, its voter turnout was usually less than 40 percent of those eligible.
It has never been so with the Millenials, however. The reason why the stereotype has changed is quite simple: the times and issues have changed significantly in the last twenty years, in which the stakes of politics seem all the more steep and the act of voting all the more critical. Growing up under the Bush Administration has formulated the political mindset of Generation Y in a way that the GOP never expected, and it left us with a sour taste in our mouths in regards to what can occur when an unchecked Republican Party is in power. The advancement of social issues like gay marriage, drug reform and women’s rights are seen by Millenials as ethically critical to the progress of the United States, and cannot be left up to the older generations to decide for them. This election proved that we, as one of the emergent dominant voting blocks of American politics, demand to be heard.
Perhaps a large part in ensuring that has been the digital revolution, which has left young people with an avenue for investigating, discussing and promoting these issues in a way never before possible with Generation X. Whereas previous generations of young voters only had their apathy increased by receiving news through the filter of the established media, the youth of today are now free to view news through various mediums and find the truth of an issue out for themselves. We are better informed and more engaged than ever before. Coupled with our increasingly progressive state of mind on the whole, young voters understood that the outcome of this election was absolutely critical for their own future.
The Romney camp, however, didn’t quite get the message. Knowing full well that each generation of Americans has become increasingly more liberal over time, they instead put all their chips on young people simply not arriving at the polls on Tuesday at all, and harped on our supposed cynicism by reminding us of our less-than-stellar job prospects after college graduation. They believed that by simply increasing our jaded outlook even more, rather than truly attempting to win over the hearts and minds of a traditionally anti-Republican demographic, that young people would simply not turn out in the same numbers as 2008.
But, the influx of money from Republican-aligned SuperPACs into the Romney campaign was largely viewed as an arm of the notorious “1 percent” that much of the youth voting bloc blames for the shrinking of the middle-class and the widening of the income gap between the rich and poor. In hindsight, the outcome would be inevitable: young people would never allow a return to the Bush Years, and unlike the 2000 and 2004 elections, they now had the power to prevent it.
“More than 22 million [young voters] cast a ballot in our estimate,” said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote. “This voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any political campaign.”
This election, to an even greater extent than in 2008, proves that the pundits were wrong about Generation Y. To put it simply, the Republican Party has created its own worst nightmare: a hyper-political generation of voters that have been driven to action by the failed policies of the Bush Era. A generation committed to the promotion of social equality and progressive policies, and they will make sure that their vision of an egalitarian future will come to fruition no matter what.