America's Young Voters: Who They Are and Why They Matter
Key Facts on Young Voters and Voter Turnout:
-In 2010, 24% of eligible young voters ages 18-29 voted in midterm elections
-85% of young adults who voted in 2010 also voted in 2008
-Voter turnout among youth ages 18-29 was 51% in 2008
-In 2008, 62% of youth voters with a college education voted, compared to 36% of those youth without a college education
Younger voters are an important and necessary portion of the electorate. They hold the key to the future of the country. Collectively, young voters represent a special voice overflowing with new ideas, solutions, and ways of looking at situations differently. They have recently come into the fold of the electoral process, and are getting their bearings in an electoral world that may be very foreign to them. Young voters should have a system of support where they are given guidance on what it means to be a voter, feel meaningful in the political process, and believing they are no less adequate in offering their opinions just because they are younger and may have less experience as a voter.
Today’s youth, or the Millennial Generation, are the current 18-29 year-olds. They are a group that is very service oriented, and while sometimes being labeled the “instant gratification” generation, this generation takes pride in seeing the immediate appreciation from others as a result of their community service. Some Millennials, like many other Americans, are angry with political officials and as a result, less are choosing to take government office positions. They have been increasingly shown to take jobs in the service sector, such as the Peace Corps and Teach for America. Despite their frustration, the country has seen an increase in voter turnout from young voters.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 1964-2004, 18-24 year-olds had an average voting rate of 41.8%, while voters age 45-64 voted at 69.3% and those 65 and older voted at 66.6%. Youth voters have been quite underrepresented in elections.
From 2000-2004, turnout rates among the youth increased by 4.3 million votes, and during the 2006 off-year election, there were 1.9 million more young voters than there had been in 2002. In 2008, 36% of young voters with no college experience voted in the presidential election, compared to 62% of young voters with college experience. A 10% increase was seen among young voters that lived in areas where information was mailed about sample ballots, polling places and extended hours.
Yet in the 2010 midterm elections, the youth vote dropped 28 points (24%) below the unprecedented 2008 presidential election turnout rate. Voter turnout in the 2010 midterms was 24% for voters age 18-29, and 51% for all voters over the age of 30.
When young voter turnout is low, it decreases accountability of elected government officials, decreases the quality of discourse in the community and through the media, and decreases opportunities to have full representation or elected leaders working for the interests of the youth in government.
These negative effects can be reversed, at least in part, by increasing civic learning. A national study has shown that two-thirds of all American students received a score below “proficient” on their national assessment of civics. Those students who receive an in depth education of civics are much more likely to understand public issues, and the importance of participating in the electoral process as a way of addressing those issues within a community. Civic understanding is not an inherent understanding that youth should automatically know. Like math, science, or many other social values, it must be taught. Whether in the home or at school, the way to preserve the practice of democracy starts by teaching it to future generations.
The strength of our democracy depends on all voters participating. The government directly or indirectly influences almost every aspect of our lives. From the water we drink in our schools, to the food that is on the shelves in our grocery stores, it affects us. The youth cannot be forgotten about, but rather should be built up to be successful voters.
Politicians will never know how you voted, but they will know you voted. Even if your vote does not decide the election, adding one more vote to the overall youth vote will add up and it does matter. If groups of youth voters show up, politicians will know that the youth are not to be ignored. Currently, politicians can afford to overlook the wants and needs of youth voters because they do not show up to the polls, and they know the youth vote will not vote them out of office if they fail to address issues that matter to young voters. That, matters. Your vote counts.