The Young Voter Myth

This was in the LA Daily News and The Beast.

Maybe it’s another Clinton running for president or maybe its American Gladiators being back on television or maybe it was the late night monologue jokes during the writer’s strike – but I’m suffering from some déjà vu. It’s all sounding vaguely familiar – I’ve seen this – heard it before.

The story is this: Young voters are being galvanized and energized…more than ever…this time.

Time Magazine ran a story of the youth vote on the cover, “Frustrated by feckless Washington, energized by the unscripted, pundit-baffling freedom of a wide-open race, young people are voting in numbers rarely seen since the general election of 1972.”

In 1970 congress extended the Civil Rights Act of 1965, it gave 18-year-olds the right to vote for federal offices. In the general election in 1972 between George McGovern and Richard Nixon young people for the first time were able to cast their ballots. The war in Vietnam was raging. There was, after all, a draft. The average age of a GI in that war was 19. They could go and die for their country but couldn’t have their vote counted. This was their moment. History was calling upon the young people of American to step up and change the course of history!

That year 1972 will forever be plugged as the year for ‘the youth vote’. It is the young voter’s election that all other young voter’s elections will be judged by.

What happened? Only half of those 18, 19 and 20 year olds that became eligible turned out to vote and Nixon won in a landslide.

Which poses the question: Why would we still want that demographics’ participation?

In 1992 when running against the first George Bush, Bill Clinton was roughly the same age then as Barack Obama is now. Early to mid-40’s. JFK’s age. Clinton, as a presidential candidate went on MTV. That had never happened before. President Bush at first refused. All the reports said that it was the most young people energized by an election since 1972. It was exciting. The numbers? According to the census bureau about 48% of young voters (18-24) turned out as compared to the 30 and over crowd, of 72.4%.

And let’s not forget the 2004 youth vote. “Vote or Die!” The word ‘blog’ was being used by pundits for the first time. Howard Dean and had excited the youth vote and there were more young people energized by an election since 1972! It was exciting! MySpace had just blown Friendster out of the water and grass roots had taken hold on this thing called ‘the internets’. What happened? Less than half (46%) of the youth voters turned out – way below national average of 61% of that year. And we re-elected a man that was nearly killed by eating a pretzel.

I’m not a cynic. I want all to be involved. Young, old – willfully uninformed – I say let’s all get together! I’m just cautiously optimistic. We as Americans have been stood up on prom night by young voters before. And then every couple of years we collectively forget, forgive and re-hype the next batch of flaky young people.

I know. I know. As we think every time we are about to get duped again. “This time it’s going to be different.“

On Super Tuesday I went to the polls half expecting the turn out to look like a Hannah Montana concert. When I got there it looked more like “Hannah and Her Sisters” reunion. There was a group of young Latino males exiting as I walked up. They had shaved heads and baggy pants. At first glance, they looked like gang bangers. As they approached I could make out their “I Voted” stickers on their hoodies. As we passed in the hall, one of them whispered towards me with a giddy skip in his step, ”Eh – vote Hillary!”

Different? Yep.