I’m not old enough to vote in the presidential election of 2016, but I still have strong beliefs and opinions about the outcomes I want to see from the race. I consistently engage in discussions with people from all generations, including my grandparents, around the different candidates of the election, the proposals from those candidates about policy, or the lack thereof. I am not alone. I have friends, even younger than me, fundraising and rallying around candidates, especially Bernie Sanders, yet they can’t even vote. So what’s going on here? Why is my generation so keen on promoting certain political ideologies, but at the same time, an extremely high percentage of these younger generations don’t bother to actually vote in the elections?
Well, first I’d like to look at what’s going on with these generations, especially the millennials. It seems that these people are gravitating toward more liberal ideologies and therefore more liberal candidates, like Bernie Sanders. To get an idea about why this might be, I decided to investigate what’s going on with young voters. According to The Atlantic, young people are leaning more and more left each year, and a reason behind this is simply that they’re young and young people tend to lean left. But why do these younger generations follow this trend? Well, millennials in particular were hit hard during the Great Recession, with staggering unemployment rates, and the economic situation of many millennials is less than desirable. They are also the most educated generation in history, yet with the current employment and job market, there is still severe underemployment. However, these young people, rather than moan and complain about economic crises, would take to the streets, protesting the rights of LGBTQ people, fighting for the notion that “Black Lives Matter,” advocating for equality between men and women, and more. So in terms of this current presidential race, many of these young people, especially white people, are advocating strongly for Bernie Sanders. With an extremely liberal ideologies, a catchy slogan, and bird-inclusive rallies, young people are Feelin’ the Bern, as the 2016 election steadily drags on with each twist and turn.
But something’s not right here – if these millennials are so passionate and advocate so strongly for people like Bernie Sanders, why is Sanders still so far behind Hillary Clinton in the election? It’s because young people don’t vote. Well, that’s not true, young people do vote, they just vote in alarmingly low numbers. Take a look at the 2012 presidential election: only 26% of millennials actually voted. Some would claim this is because all millennials are lazy, self-absorbed, technology obsessed, politics-hating youngsters, but this just simply isn’t the case (for many). According to Huffington Post, many millennials simply don’t understand the impact their vote can have. They feel as though one vote can’t enact a change, but they fail to see that when 74% of their potential voting energy goes untapped, the nation is missing out on crucial information from that many of its citizens. The Washington Post reports that “kids these days is a perennial accusation,” and that younger generations consistently lag behind in voting patterns. Even our current most reliable voters, the eldest generation used to skip out of voting. On that note, let’s take a look at what the eldest generation is up to nowadays. Frankly alarming numbers of old people are flocking to the voting booths on election days, and they are drastically affecting the outcomes of races. But why is this? Well, according to U.S. News, there are several key reasons: Vested interest in certain benefits from the government, less mobility, more time, and social norms. Social security and medicare are huge programs for the elderly, so they have a lot of stake in what happens to them as a result of elections. Older folk also tend to move around a lot less than young people, meaning they don’t have to re-register every time their address changes. Time is a pretty simple factor; retirees have a lot of time on their hands, so why not vote? And finally, there’s a whole system in senior citizen communities which promotes the idea of voting so therefore, more old people vote (peer pressure doesn’t exist in the minds of high school guidance counselors, folks!).
But these two concepts don’t seem to line up. Young people are supposedly so passionate about liberal positions but at the same time, aren’t showing up to vote. It seems that there’s so much untapped (liberal) potential in the large numbers of non-voting young people, so is it possible for someone like Bernie Sanders to inspire these people to vote? The answer is unclear, but my inclination is that no, not even a left-wing socialist like Sanders is inspiring the masses – Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls and if voting trends continue, she will certainly sweep the Democratic nomination. So in the case that Clinton does get the nomination, what will that mean for voting attendance in the general election? Will these young, Bernie-loving aficionados refuse to vote in the general? Will their absence even make a difference if their voting history hasn’t been high in the past anyways?
Brandon, Emily. “Why Older Citizens Are More Likely to Vote.” U.S. News & World Report. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 4 May 2016. <http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2012/03/19/why-older-citizens-are-more-likely-to-vote>.
Dalton, Russell. “Why Don’t Millennials Vote?” The Washington Post. Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/03/22/why-dont-millennials-vote/>.
Esaili, Hanan. “Why Don’t Young People Vote?” Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 3 May 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hanan-esaili/why-dont-young-people-vote_b_8535936.html>.
“Generational Gap.” Infographic. College Magazine. N.p., 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 5 May 2016. <http://www.collegemagazine.com/many-millennials-feelthebern/>.
Thompson, Derek. “The Liberal Millennial Revolution.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Monthly Group, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/the-liberal-millennial-revolution/470826/>.
“Voting Rates over Time for the Voting Population.” Chart. United States Census Bureau. N.p., Apr. 2014. Web. 4 May 2016. <https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p20-573.pdf>.