Don't Blame Us -- Young People Rocked the Vote

Turnout will be even higher if youth issues are addressed.

By Jacob Schneider
Jacob Schneider is a reporter for Youth Radio and co-news editor of the Jacket, the newspaper at Berkeley High School.

Los Angeles Times

November 13, 2004

I'm supposed to be angry about the presidential election and I am — not just at the result but at the generational finger-pointing of my supposedly wiser elders. Disgruntled Democrats have isolated a scapegoat: young voters. Since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, young voters have voted at lower rates than their adult counterparts. This year was billed as the breakout year, but 18- to 24-year-olds were said not to have turned out in numbers as large as expected.

Give me a break. More than 4 million more young people voted in this election than in 2000, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. For the first time since 1972, a majority of eligible Americans under 30 voted. MTV's Rock the Vote campaign set a goal of 20 million young voters; it got nearly 21 million.

Further, young voters, who voted for George W. Bush and Al Gore in nearly equal numbers in 2000, solidly supported John Kerry with 54% of their vote.

Measurements of this unprecedented surge in voter participation and liberal allegiance are clouded by the central truth of this close election: More people voted across the board. The record wave of young voters was more than canceled out by an increase in the number of conservative older adults.

But cold statistics are for math class. What's more important is to listen to young people themselves. In my circles, friends — those who voted as well as those who were not yet eligible — watched the returns with acute interest. We know we stand to be the first people called up in the event of a military draft. We experience the nationwide decline in education spending firsthand on a daily basis, and we are concerned that there won't be jobs waiting for us when we graduate.

Bush didn't win this election because young voters failed to support Kerry. The president may have won because Midwesterners trusted his moral compass more than his opponent's or preferred his economic plan. Or perhaps a majority of our fellow Americans believed that it was not a good idea to change administrations during wartime.

Don't label young voters the "Ralph Nader supporters" of 2004. The only thing that would accomplish would be to send my generation the message that our votes aren't wanted. Instead, encourage even larger turnouts by making our issues — the cost of higher education and the creation of meaningful jobs — the core rather than the afterthoughts of future campaigns. These are matters of substance, not style, no matter how desperately politicians and their handlers might work at framing them in the hippest and most market-friendly way. For starters, how about beefing up funding for K-12 education?

Democrats can avoid losing future constituents of all ages by squarely facing the shortcomings exposed by the election results and rectifying them.