Rise of the Young Voter

As the upcoming election approaches, all eyes and ears are centered on the candidates, but who is watching and hearing us? Every four years, presidential candidates stretch the horizons of their campaign to cover as many demographics as possible in hopes of attaining a multifaceted base of supporters. Amongst the many minorities that politicians lobby for, the vote of the youth continues to get overlooked.

According to the United States Census, 46 percent of Millennials (Americans ages 18-25) voted in 2004, however four years later this number improved to approximately 49 percent. Though our age group still remains the lowest rate of voters in the nation, these statistics are on the rise. In a study released by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, 65 percent of the 3,096 Millennials who were surveyed claimed that they are registered to vote. This newfound statistic depicts a staggering increase in young registered voters in comparison to the 58 percent reported by the census in 2008.

This data isn’t just numbers, they are indicators of change. It’s time that our vote isn’t overlooked by politicians and the media; it’s time for the rise of the Millennials at the polls. Though new studies are showing the increase of voter participation from our generation, our voices are not loud enough. Issues such as the cost of education, unemployment rates, Internet policy and tax rates are all problems that directly affect us, yet we don’t make enough of an effort to do something about it. In order for progress to be made in favor of our age group, we must show that we aren’t the average apathetic teenagers that the nation thinks we are. According to Harvard University’s study, we aren’t so “whatever” about serious subjects discussed in the political realm. When asked to rate the most important issues that our country currently faces, survey takers ranked unemployment rates, the federal deficit, affordable health care and lowering the tax burden as the matters they personally found to be critical in this current time.

There you have it, we care — just not enough. We know that the real issues aren’t who changed their relationship status on Facebook or what party we’re going to this weekend and not all of us are ignorant enough to get our information from the latest Twitter trend. We are much more than teens sitting idly behind a computer screen, we are young minds with real values and opinions. Unfortunately, we have yet to be taken seriously. Now the question is, whose fault is it? Do we blame the politicians for not hearing or seeing us? Or, do we blame ourselves?

I blame both. In 2008, the Obama campaign aggressively sought the vote of the youth, resulting in a 3 percent increase of votes from the Millennials. Obama inspired the youth so much that soon teenagers were seen wearing his face on T-shirts with Shepard Fairey’s famous “HOPE” poster printed on it. Suddenly, it was cool to care about the election. Regardless of whether Obama was the right choice back in ’08, the fact of the matter is young people turned out at the polls. If politicians continue to talk to young people and inspire them, maybe, just maybe, we’ll feel as though we matter in American politics. But it isn’t their job to make us feel special, there needs to be effort on our behalf.

We can bitch about tuition and not having jobs all we want, but nothing is going to change until we become active enough in politics to make a difference. That means reading the newspaper every now and then, learning about candidate platforms, maybe even signing/starting petitions and, of course, registering to vote. That means changing the percentage of young people voting from 49 percent to 60 or 70. The only way that politicians are really going to pay attention to us is if we go out there, register, and vote. Find someone on Ring Road that is asking people to register, go to the ASUCI office or the post office and pick up a form or go online and print them out. I know you wish there was an online option that didn’t take as much physical effort, but maybe if you actually register you can vote on an initiative to make California a state that allows for that option.

Believe me when I say that lethargy gets the best of us in this situation, it wasn’t until recently that I mailed in my forms, but that’s the problem: we need to stop looking at voting like a chore and start looking it as an opportunity for progress. We have a voice and it can be heard, but it’s time to make it a little louder.

 

Sarah Menendez is a first-year political science and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.