Young voters under the age of thirty have become markedly disengaged this election season compared to 2008, with only 48% giving "a lot of thought" to the race compared to 65% in 2008. Similarly, only 63% definitely plan on voting, compared to 72% in 2008.
While a drop in the youth vote disproportionately would hurt President Barack Obama, the youth of the Republican Party are experiencing a similar lack of enthusiasm. After such high engagement levels in the 2008 election, many are wondering the effect and cause of such a lackadaisical political attitude.
The youth vote is relatively new. Richard Nixon passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen in 1971. Comparing this year’s youth election data to last elections is holding it to some pretty high standards of course. 2008 had markedly higher youth voting rates than previous years and there is no reason to assume this would be an ongoing trend.
The waning Bush years, the economic crisis, the first prospective black candidate, a young candidate, and a female vice presidential candidate made that year’s election, not just very enticing and partisan, but gave our votes a feeling of real meaning. The world was on a fiscal cliff and we we’re convinced that it was on a social one as well. To not pay attention and to not vote was to spurn free will and to merely accept fate as a motion.
And so here we are four years later, noticeably and understandably tired and bored with the entire process. To feel that our votes are for radical change, radical anything is naïve. We have a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican running for office. Are we supposed to scream about it? Even if there were radical candidates with a chance of winning, it is becoming recognized that the president does not have as much power as he is assumed. For all the talk of the “bully pulpit” we are innately aware that a “separation of powers” means just what it says. For all the trends about limited government and states’ rights, the importance of local elections is suspiciously absent.
I contend that the reason the youth care less about the presidential election is because we should care less. If we cared about and put nearly as much thought and attention towards local politics we would change the world in an immediate way that would have noticeable and lasting effects.
Perhaps that is why we are checking out of national politics. The noticeable and lasting effects of it are either extremely slow to materialize or don’t sufficiently affect us. For all the talk about the middle class, the policies the candidates stage out largely affect the poor or the rich, the middle class is assumed best if left alone. As huge corporations buy out our national politics we can’t help but have a sneaking suspicion it is because they are the ones truly affected by them.
A youth movement towards local politics would have a lasting and noticeable effect on everyday lives. It would also potentially train a truly new generation of leaders from all over the ideological spectrum. New ideas about policy and politicking would eventually move from the local to the national stage. Just in time for when those corporations who bought out politics turn out to be us.