According to the recent Harvard Public Opinion Poll, 51% of America’s youth eligible to vote (18-29 years old) are disaffected, stating that they will definitely not vote. This amounts to roughly 23 million young potential voters opting out. (More than this actually, but here we are only counting eligible young voters, not those currently unregistered.)
In 2008, 26.3 % (according to the U.S. Census statistics) of all eligible voters did not vote due to cited reasons of either “not interested”; or, “did not like candidates or campaign issues.” Given that there were 206,072,000 eligible voters in 2008, this amount to roughly 54 million disaffected potential voters, a large percentage of which were obviously between the ages of 18 and 29.
A reason often cited for this malaise in the younger generation is the perceived indifference to the two major candidates. Neither Obama nor Romney are believed to be sufficiently truthful, or viewed as being a candidate for the majority of people in this country. Perhaps they feel that Wall Street interests have one or both placed safely within the safety deposit box of their interests. Perhaps they feel the finances of the election doom the democratic values of the country since they will be beholden to the moneyed interests of the very rich. Many are likely to be put off by the constant barrage of negative attack ads.
In any case, they view the two candidates as a single entity (sometimes humorously cited as Obamney), and no matter which candidate eventually crosses the finish line first, the country will no doubt run as it always has, nothing very much changing.
And yet there are choices other than those two candidates. Those 54 million disaffected potential voters, those young voters opting out (23 million in 2008) might select Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Either candidate has the potential to excite the political energies of today’s youth. The efforts of Ron Paul’s supporters (noted for their fervor) have shown the effectiveness that libertarian thought brings to polling results. Currently Gary Johnson is polling 74% on ShadowElection (decidedly not a scientific sampling of likely voters, however it does show the enthusiasm tethered to Johnson and Stein), whereas Stein comes in at a respectable 19%.
Were the youth of this country to realize their potential for change in America and vote for either of these candidates we would have not one but two alternatives to the major parties. The Democrats and Republicans would be forced to move to the center and compromise (Ross Perot achieved such an effect in the election of 1992).
Of course the often-cited response from those who might otherwise vote for a third party candidate is that they do not want to throw the election to “the other guy.” Perot likely gave the election to Clinton siphoning off votes from the GOP. Nader may have tilted the election toward George Bush in 2000 (though others cite Buchanan’s effect in Florida as an equalizer).
The point I make here is that if the youth no longer fears the “wrong” candidate, but increasingly views both major parties as equally disserving of their animosity, then they may someday wake up to see their vote as potentially counting again. They do not care if Obama or Romney wins. Voting for Stein might tilt to Romney’s favor, but to the youth of our country, so what? If a third party won 10-20% of the vote, that could not be ignored by either Romney or Obama. Change would again be on the books. Change might then actually happen.