By Subaita Rahman
Considering the political climate of where we are, chances are high that you’ve already been given the spiel of the importance of young voter turnout in at least one of your classes (or if not, you might be taking the wrong classes). Illustrated by the fact that young people account for half the eligible voting population, yet show up at alarmingly low rates (less than 20% of us voted in 2016), it’s clear that many feel disillusioned by our influence in the polls, because in the grand scale of things, how much difference can one person make? In truth, the real tried and tested question here is the sheer power of one age demographic showing up to the polls, and the answers speak for themselves.
So far, the presence of young voters in elections have made huge differences in the direction campaigns have been heading. Barack Obama’s presidency was arguably made possible largely by the young voters at the time choosing to show their enthusiasm for his campaign and presidency; in 2008, 66% of young voters under 30 voted for Obama, making the disparity between age demographics the largest it’s been since 1972. Similarly, his popularity with young voters did him great favors again in 2012, as the majority of the 22 million young voters who chose to show up decisively won him crucial states like Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Now, I’m sure many of us can agree that some of the most amusing (and sometimes simultaneously the cringiest) things on the internet are the desperate attempts of corporations and prominent figures trying to be relatable to the youth. Though these attempts sometimes miss the mark, it does say a lot that an entire marketing team is probably behind the decision of running a Hamburger Helper Twitter account (and apparently, mixtape?). This urgency is carried over in politics as well; Tom Steyer, a Democratic philanthropist active in clean energy and climate change action who just recently dropped out of the race, aimed to spend $4 million on ads targeting young voters. We are the first people they’re trying to reach on the internet, with Sanders and Bloomberg spending the most targeting people aged 18-34 on Facebook. As weird as it is to see Tik Toks on gun control and economic inequality, you have to acknowledge why they’re trying so hard to speak our language.
We can also see a few examples of low youth voter turnout inevitably worked against the interest of young people, a more recent popular example being on Brexit. When the U.K. voted to leave the EU earlier last year in a 52% to 48% vote, even though an overwhelming majority of young voters chose to stay in the EU, simply not enough of them voted. According to the BBC, while 90% of voters aged 65 and older voted, only around 64% of 18-24-year-olds voted (still significantly higher than American youth turnout). Because of this, conversations on economic equity, healthcare, and job security are now resurfacing and less secure than ever, and it will affect the younger demographic disproportionately higher.
The truth is, the outcomes of elections like the upcoming presidential election or Brexit make the biggest difference on us in particular. Historically, the Great Recession hit young populations more than anyone else back in 2008 and beyond: student debt issues skyrocketed, newly entering professionals struggled to find their footing, and homeownership dropped significantly. Think about where we’ll be in four years; many of us will be graduated, looking at graduate school or careers, maybe even houses and families. Even if you think you don’t care now, you will have plenty of reason to care within the next four years, or even within the next few months as responses to things like viral disease prevention and gun control resurface. With all the attempts to reach the young demographic and the decisive outcomes we’ve influenced in recent elections, it’s no wonder those seeking power often take our opinions and influence more seriously than even we do. The least we can do at this point is to show what we actually want.
To find your polling station or check on registration status, be sure to visit https://www.vote.org/ . See you on Tuesday!