“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson
According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, voters ages 18 - 29 saw the largest increase in voter turnout (a 3.4% jump) of all age groups from the 2004 to the 2008 elections. But from the 2008 to the 2016 elections, the 18 – 29 demographic experienced the sharpest decrease in voter turnout (a 5% drop).
The lack of an overall youth voter turnout in 2016 was one of many factors that contributed to a Trump presidency. However, had the youth voter turnout in 2016 been what it was in 2008 when the initial Obama campaign energized the youth vote with its grassroots movement, Trump may have lost the election despite the electoral college, which granted him his 2016 victory while losing the popular vote.
Trump has now placed 3 judges on the Supreme Court, since taking office, with the confirmation of Judge Amy Barrett Cohen. The sudden heavy Conservative shift on the Supreme Court now threatens the rights of so many Americans that past generations fought tirelessly for. Women’s rights, trans rights, LGTBQ+ rights, Healthcare, gun control, fair tax laws; laws that affect us all are currently being threatened with legislation introduced at the state levels all around the country. Laws that protected long oppressed demographics in America. Laws that saw minorities, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ citizens gain some level of equality. Based on historical legal patterns, it stands to reason those attempts to legislate taking away rights from Americans will eventually make their way to the Supreme Court.
Why was Obama’s grassroots movement able to turn out so many youth voters that didn’t pull through for 2016? Obama ran on a platform of guiding the country out of a historic recession that saw deregulation lead to the collapse of the housing market and nearly the economy. He promised to not continue the policies that nearly led to the collapse of a nation and instead govern on a basis of representing all Americans equally. His message of "Change" reverberated through youth social circles seeing the future President break numerous fundraising goals while unleashing a youthful furor of energy into the political space never seen before.
With a heightened free flow of information in the late 2000s, then-candidate Obama used innovative resources to push his message of institutional fairness, government transparency, and systemic restructuring to prevent another possibility of our nation’s financial collapse.
At the time, we were a country coming to a reckoning of our national mortality. Most young voters witnessed the strain of a corporate-run government and all the consequences it had for them and their parents/grandparents.
However, the story was quite different 8 years later. In 2016, we were a country coming from the greatest economic recovery in our history as we had regained our standing in the international community. We were thriving, prospering, the future teeming with hope of addressing climate change, racial injustice, and social inequalities. If I may be frank, the youth didn’t care about voting in 2016 as much as 2008 simply because things weren’t bad enough. A troubled nation spurs frenzied calls to action from the youth, but a healthy nation seemed to breed indifference.
This mindset to voting isn’t proving to be the most ideal way to elect political representatives. Young voters must start understanding if large numbers of people only show up to vote to fix the country after it’s experienced a long-term downturn, the subsequent voting needed to ensure it stays fixed is neglected.
Per the Census Bureau’s CPS, in 2016 18-29 year olds saw a 43.4% turnout. Meanwhile, 30-44 saw a 56.9% turnout while 45-59 and 60+ turned out at 66.2% and 71.4%, respectively. Due to their turnouts, 18-29 received 15.7% of the share of Electoral votes, 30-44 received 22.5%, 45-59 received 28.2%, and 60+ received over a third of electoral votes at 33.6%.
The older voters get, the more they realize although elections seem life consuming, they're only a small part of the overall political scene in which policy is made. Those who show up to vote get to decide who is elected to implement laws that could affect the rest of their lives. Some politicians only serve 2-year limits (House of Representatives) while some can serve for 4 (governors, president, state senators) or even 6 (Senators) years! And without term limits, many of these elected officials can remain in a policymaking/influencing position most of their lives.
If you prefer to see the nation’s tax money used on the people instead of corporate subsidies and bailouts: vote. If you would like to see Congressional Representatives uphold their oaths to the government, people, and checks and balances more seriously: vote. If you don’t want generations after to experience paying off exorbitant student loans: vote. If you would like to make sure your children can grow up in a future where they won’t have to focus on the same racial, gender, sexual orientation based discrimination issues we have for the last 200+ years: vote. If you would like to see a government run based on facts and data driven science while adhering to the Separation of Church and State clause of the Constitution: vote. If you would like future generations to know the joy of a prosperous nation that overcame the challenges of global warming: VOTE!
America again faces yet another reckoning as we seek to rectify the soul of our nation. All signs point toward a massive voter turnout with many states reporting just over a week from election night that they’ve already surpassed their 2016 early voting rates the week prior.
The Alliance for Youth Organizing founded National Voter Registration Day in 2012 and since then has registered over 1.4 million new voters. In 2016 in Colorado, young voters (under 30) working with the Alliance for Youth Action turned out at a rate of 82%, compared to just 60% for their registered peers statewide. Organizations aimed at encouraging higher turnout in younger voters have been gaining momentum locally and nationally, especially since the 2016 presidential election. These organizations are ensuring that future generations will be as politically aware and active as older generations of voters.
Regardless of the results, there has been an existential awakening in the youth demographic of voters. Whether it will be sustained, remains to be seen. But it is our collective duty to pass our experiences and wisdom along to the next generation so that the importance of voting and it’s effects are cultural knowledge and not something we only reacknowledge when things are bad. In the spirit of one of the more profound tenants of the democracy we hold near and dear, we are all better; together.