I read something the other day that really upset me; it was a quote from a young voter in a story about this month's special election in Massachusetts for Senator. This person said he wasn't going to vote because he only cared about Big Elections.
“Politics is important when it is important to the voter. The Senate elections don’t really seem as important to me as the bigger elections,” said the quotee.
But what does that mean? There are “bigger” elections than Senator? Let's see: President. Governor?
Young people are only motivated to vote for two offices?
This quote upsets me not because I think it accurately reflects most voters’ attitudes. In fact, I'm sure that most voters understand that Senator is a “big” office. Every seat in the House and at least 36 Senate seats are up for grabs in 2010. This IS big.
No, this quote upsets me because it’s part of the self-fulfilling prophecy cycle we hear every midterm election. The press and pollsters start reporting that voters don’t care or are angry or alienated or bored…and so they’re not going to vote. Therefore, the results are a foregone conclusion: in this case, a “bad night” for the Democrats on November 2, 2010. And we’re being told this in January!
The politicians hear that and start responding accordingly, often further alienating their base, and prompting more voters to tell more pollsters that they’re sitting this one out….And so on.
I’m particularly upset to be told that young people aren’t going to vote in this election. This is quickly becoming set-in-stone conventional wisdom: the 18-29 set turned out for Obama but they won’t bother for anyone else.
Except that the rise in youth voting didn’t start with Obama. 2008 was the third consecutive presidential election where the turnout of young voters increased over the previous election and…young voter turnout increased in both the 2002 and 2006 midterms, according to CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement).
CIRCLE’s 2006 report attributed the rise in youth voting to the quantity of outreach groups directed towards young voters; changes in voter registration policies to facilitate the process; and a large number of contested elections.
All of these factors are still true: what’s changed is how we hear, suddenly and repeatedly, that young people have stopped voting. In a reader comment to that story I started with: “The young adults no longer care.”
I wish newspapers would start reporting this: “Polls predict that happy, secure people for whom everything is going perfectly well and who have no complaints about their leadership will not bother to vote in this election. Incumbent politicians do not need to concern themselves with the opinions of these 43 people.”
The political experts shouldn’t use this month's race in Massachusetts or any one election to dictate to us the results of all 2010. It’s only January! We still have time to decide that this midterm election counts, that Senate and House seats are “big” races, and that we all still care as much as we did two years ago.
Are you a young person (18-29) who wants to prove the conventional wisdom wrong in 2010? Head over to Youth Vote Overseas and register to vote.
Have a comment or want to suggest a topic? Write to Clair Whitmer, OVF Director of Voter Outreach