On Election Day, many millennials will get their second chance to perform their civic duty of voting for the President of the United States. Their first opportunity, in 2008 when they helped assure the election of President Barack Obama, was a wild success in young voter enthusiasm and registration, but four years later, the success does not seem likely to be repeated.
“Washington is broken,” is one of the few points young Americans in 2012 can agree on, according to a study conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.
Another study conducted by PEW found that millenial voters who claim to be following the election closely has dropped 17 percent since 2008 and only 63% of registered voters definitely plan to vote, also a drop. The study also shows that 50% of people are certain they are registered to vote; this is the lowest registration rate of the last five presidential elections.
Despite the feeling of dissatisfaction with the government in the past few years, millennials are just not as involved in the voting process as they were four years ago. Still, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this year should be a landmark year for the 58 million millennials eligible to vote.
“Millennials, as a generation are still coming to voting age. Unless millennial vote really tumbles, there will still be a large turnout” said Mike Hais, co-author of “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.” Hais isn’t sure why there is such a disconnect between the numbers of eligible voters and the decreased enthusiasm and registration. “2008 just seemed to be a magical year-all things seemed to come together,” he said. “Part of it was driven by Obama; a new, young and interesting candidate that appealed to the positive outlook of millennials.”
Going into the 2008 elections, there was a lot of discontent resulting from George W. Bush’s presidency, making many millenials extra anxious for a fresh start. Having two new presidential nominees with novel ideas meant that people were going to find the campaign much more engaging. Caitlin Maguire, marketing manager at Rock the Vote, explained that the slump in excitement when an incumbent is running is common.
“This year we knew we had to put out a lot of work. When a president is running for re-election there’s a very different vibe and a lot of rehashing of old, negative things,” Maguire said. “There isn’t as much looking ahead.”
While Obama engaged millennials in an applaud-worthy fashion in 2008, there has been a lot of talk recently as to why Obama might lose some of these voters. It’s no secret that the economy hasn’t completely bounced back and that young adults are suffering as a result. Wages for young adults have continued to fall since Obama took office. The job market for young Americans isn’t looking great either, nor is the college loan situation, or the long-lasting potential for governmental welfare agencies such as Social Security and Medicare. These are all things that are important to millennial voters, points out Michael Barone in an article on the National Review Online, the website for one of the most widely read Republican/Conservative magazines. Because of the importance of these issues to young adults, Barone suggests that Obama might–and should not–get the support of young voters.
“Obama’s policies, from Obamacare to high-speed rail, treat people as identical cogs in a very large machine, part of a mindless mass that would not be able to get along without government guidance,” Barone writes after his discussion of the independent nature of millennials.
However, many young Americans are Democratic, more racially diverse than ever (about 40% are not white non-Hispanic), less religious than older generations and are more progressive on social issues. Millennials often support gay marriage, pro-choice, stricter restrictions on gun law and are concerned with environmental issues. Because they are so largely affected by the economic crash and lack of jobs, they are also in favor of a larger government that can assist and support them in the long run. Hais says of millennials that “they see societal issues and look to government to help. As a group, they favor an active government.”
Yet when the Harvard Study found that millenials overwhelming believe that President Obama inherited issues that take longer than four years to resolve, rather than blame him completely for now getting the county back on track.
That’s exactly the reason Clara LeMoyne is voting for President Obama. A first-time voter, she considers herself to be politically aware. LeMoyne, a typical millennial, will graduate this coming spring with a liberal arts degree from NYU and is worried about finding a job in the current economy. She doesn’t believe this is President Obama’s fault though, nor does she agree with the statement that “Washington is broken.” “I don’t think a democracy is a perfect, structured entity,” she says. “Saying it is broken implies that it was once perfect and I think a democracy is a slow, fluctuating thing.”