Youth Opinion Is Too Often Ignored
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Have you voted yet? I’m sure you’ve been asked this question at least once during election season. Numerous politicians, professors, and even Van Wilder’s sidekick have discussed the importance of youth voting. As Election Day rapidly approaches, please allow me to add my argument for why you should vote—and don’t worry, I promise not to be overly idealistic.
Seniors may remember their RAs nagging everyone to fill out their census forms two years ago. Censuses, along with exit polls, can provide valuable raw data about voter turnout habit by age. For example, turnout among voters aged 18-24 in the 2000 election was a pathetic 36 percent. Seniors aged 65 and older, on the other hand, turned out at an impressive 70 percent.
Cutting through the mountains of data available, this basically means that by not voting at senior citizen-esque levels, 18-24 year olds lost roughly 10 million potential votes in 2000. These two demographics are relatively equal in terms of total population, yet over twice as many seniors voted as young adults in 2000. Youth vote turnout improved somewhat by 2008 due to a sudden infection of hope and change, but not enough to dent the senior voting advantage.
You may ask why you should care that the early bird special votes more effectively than we do. As a political science nerd, I can give you a simple answer: politicians care much more about grandpa’s vote than yours. For the past year, Obama and Romney have been bending over backward trying to assuage seniors’ fear that they will lose their precious Medicare. Student loans, on the other hand, have barely been mentioned in debates or campaign speeches.
Over half of college students have collectively amassed roughly $1 trillion in student loan debt, and all the presidential candidates do is mouth generic platitudes about the importance of education in a democratic society. Why is this the case? It’s because in close elections, politicians will pursue votes in high-turnout demographics. If college students as a whole decided to put down their red Solo cups and vote, while the elderly stayed in on Election Day to watch The Price is Right, the political climate would change abruptly. Medicare would lose its Holy Grail status, and politicians would finally start to care about crushing student debt. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
When it comes to social issues, the irrelevance of the youth vote becomes even more alarming. Roughly two-thirds of youth voters support same-sex marriage, while roughly two-thirds of senior citizens oppose it. Predictably, same-sex marriage has been defeated time and time again at the polls. As social conservatives love to proclaim, 32 states have put initiatives restricting same-sex marriage on the ballot, and all 32 have passed. Voter apathy is drowning out the youth of the nation’s opinion on one of the defining social issues of our time.
I would never consider myself an ageist. I have been blessed with two sets of loving grandparents and numerous mentors who were much older than me. However, numbers don’t lie. The average life expectancy in the United States is approximately 78 years. This means the elderly population that politicians obsequiously cater to have, on average, roughly a decade left before they shuffle off this mortal coil. The youth population, on the other hand, has half a century to endure government policies that essentially ignored their opinion.
The effect of the youth vote on economic policy irritates me. Social Security and Medicare are underfunded and deeply in debt, yet politicians refuse to make necessary budget cuts for fear of losing the senior vote. Even worse, our generation’s payroll taxes are funding these bloated government programs—the burden does not fall on the elderly who cash the checks. The effect of the youth vote on social policy, however, absolutely infuriates me. Discrimination is traditionally undermined at the youth level. History textbooks are flush with images of college students bravely registering African-American voters in the segregated South. Unfortunately, thanks to youth voting apathy, our voice on same-sex marriage has been drowned out by the senior vote. Discriminatory laws against same-sex couples have been passed in state after state on the backs of the senior vote. In 20 years, though, the vast majority of this voting block will be six feet under, and our generation will be forced to repeal this stain of bigotry from dozens of state constitutions, all because our majority opinion was not enforced at the voting booth.
I am sick and tired of youth voting issues being completely ignored by politicians during election season. I do not expect every college student to be a proponent of same-sex marriage, or to have suffered from paying back student loans. I’m sure, though, that everyone has felt the frustration of voicing an opinion and having it ignored. The remedy is simple. Vote. I don’t care who you vote for—write in Baldwin for president if that’s what you want. I don’t expect every college student to suddenly pick up a ballot, but if we can at least raise our collective vote participation rate for this election, then hopefully our government and our politicians will belatedly realize that our opinions matter too.