Young voters poised to backtrack on 2008 voting commitment
Young voters turned out in nearly unprecedented numbers to elect Barack Obama president in 2008.
Jeremy Nance, 22, was one of those voters.
“Last time it was much more exciting,” the senior public relations major said. “This time it feels more normal, but last time with [Obama] being the first black president, the first in so many categories, it had more of an exciting factor to it than this time.”
Although Nance said he intends to vote, a lack of enthusiasm in the 2012 election threatens to cut young-voter participation, which could impact the outcome of the race.
Only 58 percent of registered voters aged 18 to 29 said they will definitely vote this November, according to a Gallup survey taken in July, which falls some 20 points shy of the 78 percent average of registered voters overall who intend to vote.
Though younger voters typically are the smallest voting bloc, the large deficit lags far behind voting intentions in the run up to the 2004 and 2008 elections—though Gallup stressed that July numbers could not serve as exact comparison to polls nearer to the election.
The 51-percent turnout of voters under 30 in 2008 marked the second-largest turnout of that age demographic. Those voters gave 66 percent of their votes to Obama, who based his campaign on registering new voters, helping turn traditionally Republican states such as North Carolina and Indiana toward the Democratic column.
“I think our success, which I will define as us meeting our registration and get-out-the-vote goals, depends on the candidates a lot,” said Caitlin Maguire, marketing manager for Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization that works to register and turn out young voters. “The candidates, when they’re talking to young people, and they’re going to campuses and they’re addressing issues that directly affect young people, then young people are going to turn out.”
The impact of Obama’s candidacy in 2008 has not been lost on the opposition.
The Tennessee Republican Party has actively engaged with College Republican organizations around the state in hopes of motivating republican students and those who are unhappy with the last four years, said Adam Nickas, the party’s executive director.
“You have a lot of college students that may have voted for President Obama in 2008 that have now graduated and have attempted to enter the workforce, but can’t find a job,” Nickas said. “Some of those students may even have masters’ degrees and still find it difficult to find a job in the Obama economy.”
Democrats acknowledge a lack of enthusiasm now but generally see the danger in a lack of turnout rather than a party switch.
“I think that people wanted to vote more in 2008 because they were so excited about Barack Obama, but a lot of that excitement among the college population isn’t quite the same,” said Benjamin Ries, president of the Vanderbilt College Democrats.
Ries said young voters should realize the real consequences of elections.
“You make clear the current administration has accomplished a lot,” he said. “This election is extremely important because the two candidates have very different visions, and it makes a big difference who wins.”
Although young voters helped the Obama campaign pick up certain states, their largest impact was likely in volunteering and activism, rather than in actually turning the race, according to a Pew Research Center report.
But even a small downturn from 2008 turnout levels could have an impact, according to Lisa Langenbach, an MTSU political science professor.
“I don’t think it’s going to be down tremendously,” Langenbach said. “It probably won’t be up as high as it was in ’08, but that still can have an impact, especially in those close states.”
Nance said voting was important, “because if you don’t vote, then you don’t have an opinion.”
Ebru Akin, also a public-relations major, agreed with that assessment, even as she plans to not cast a ballot.
“I just don’t feel like I know enough about the election or any of the candidates or anything like that,” Akin said. “So I just don’t feel that my opinion would be worthy enough.”
~ Photo Credit: Matt Masters