Young Vo⁠t⁠ers Op⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ng Ou⁠t⁠?

By: The James Madison Institute / 2012



By Keith Leslie, JMI Intern, Senior in Economics at Florida State University
Posted September 20, 2012
Election Day is now less than two months away. Both major political parties have held their national conventions, officially nominated their candidates, and presented their platforms to the American people. Despite the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties, which have been accentuated since Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, both sides have at least one thing in common: They want people to voice their opinions at the polls.One demographic group whose voice had a substantial impact four years ago is young voters. There were more voters under the age of 30 in the 2008 Presidential election than ever before. However, projections indicate there will be a lower turnout of young voters this year.This does not come as a surprise. In 2008, the race featured a fresh, charismatic candidate in then-Senator Barack Obama, who had quite the stage set for his campaign. The economy was battered, bruised, and on the brink of a financial crisis. Many Americans were weary of the wars in Iraqand Afghanistan. They were worried about how they were going to pay their mortgages, college tuitions, and credit card bills. In this climate of fear, Obama became a reassuring beacon of “Hope” and “Change” for worried voters, both young and old. In the overwhelmingly negative climate of the political arena, he offered positive messages of a stronger, more equal America. He provided voters with a chance to be part of history by electing the first African-American President. As a result, he won the election handily, carrying 66% of the youth vote.In 2012 the enthusiasm of young voters that was so prominent in 2008 is mostly missing because there is not enough “newness” to either campaign. Obama’s time in office has not done him many (if any) favors in his reelection bid. His presidency has become the status quo, and the youthful zeal that characterized him four years ago has been replaced by gray hairs and pleas for more time to bring his vision forAmericato fruition. For young people, Mitt Romney is not a particularly attractive alternative; they feel that he does not understand them because of his wealth, age, and, some polls suggest, even his Mormon faith. The Ryan pick did inject some youthful energy into the GOP’s campaign, but Ryan is relatively unknown outside ofWisconsinand fiscal conservative circles.In addition to these factors, both campaigns have been extremely negative thus far, with Team Obama crying that Romney/Ryan will end Medicare as we know it and Team Romney saying that we cannot afford another four years of an Obama presidency. The mudslinging on both sides has been a real turnoff for young people, especially those who are eligible to vote for the first time, and many are opting not to vote.That is a shame, because every issue at stake in this election will directly affect the lives of this younger generation. It can be hard to sift through the mud that both Democrats and Republicans have been flinging at each other and find truly important information, but all voters should try to become educated on the problems we all face. These include:

$16 trillion of national debt – not including the currently unfunded Social Security and Medicare obligations, which are $20.5 trillion and $38.6 trillion respectively, or $58.1 trillion of future promises made to the American people.
8.1 percent unemployment, not taking into account underemployed or discouraged workers. Unemployment has been over 8 percent for more than 40 consecutive months.
17.1 percent unemployment for young people (ages 16-24), including college graduates
An average of $25,000 in student loan debt for college graduates

Young Americans are entering a labor market in which it is increasingly difficult to find work, even with a degree. Furthermore, many are burdened by thousands of dollars of debt, putting them in a financial hole even before they receive their first paycheck. And this generation, and their children and grandchildren, are the ones who will shoulder the massive burden of the national debt.This election will significantly shapeAmerica’s future, a future that will be experienced by the country’s young voters. I hope they will contemplate whether or not they want to live in a country that is constantly in debt and offers them limited job prospects. If they don’t, I hope they’ll run to the polls in November.