It’s no secret that this year’s presidential election holds enormous consequence for nearly every demographic group nationwide. The economy, health care, immigration and other highly debated political issues are contested on the nation’s biggest stage. What this means to me and other young voters is a heightened responsibility to participate in the electoral process at a time when campaign finance and the ways in which politicians engage our vote are drastically changing.
Presidential campaigns, now with little to no economic restrictions, hold an endless reach on the ways to engage millennial voters. Rock the Vote — an organization that aims to increase young voter turnout and fight for progressive change — describes American youth as “the most tech savvy, diverse and largest in American history.” But is that necessarily a good thing? Although youth turnout at primary polls and caucuses nearly doubled in many states in 2008 from 2000, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (http://www.civicyouth.org), there often doesn’t seem to be a definitive correlation between participation and political knowledge.
In a generation in which young voters are regarded by many as lazy and unmotivated, could it be that our relationship with social media has actually brought us further from the issues on which we’re voting? I contend that, though social media has allowed organizations to broaden their mobility, and familiarize people with enigmatic slogans and verbiage, it has given campaigns the power to manipulate without having to actually explain.
None of this was more evident than in 2008, when contribution spending allowed candidates to employ a number of full-time youth outreach directors to target the youth vote in new and innovative ways. Exit polls conducted nationwide showed that Barack Obama took 66 percent of the millennial vote — ages 18-29 — in 2008, opposed to 53 percent of the vote from the rest of the voting-age population, the largest such disparity between the two categories in more than three decades.
The most justifiable explanation might be the nationwide social movement that the 2008 election became for many young people. Campaign workers walked the streets and held rallies, registering voters and giving short, partisan explanations of issues affecting our generation. Often, that one piece of information would be the only thing that person would take into account when filling out their ballots.
Call that politics in America, but campaigners will admit the candy had never been so easy to give out. Simple — but not detailed — information was disseminated to a majority of the nation’s youth, and I can’t help but feel, in retrospect, that we failed in our duty to ask any tough questions. Why was it so easy to get everyone on board? Why didn’t we dig deeper? Why didn’t we ask: Are we going to stand for “change we can believe in” because it sounds cool, or are we going to stand for tangible change that we can see reflected in the policies of our government?
This is not a partisan question in itself, and I’m not pointing fingers; I’m simply saying that we should be better. We MUST to be better at doing our own research and understanding what it is we’re voting on.
According to the nonpartisan survey group Generation Opportunity, 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they will learn more this year about the actual policy positions of the presidential candidates than they did in 2008 — and that’s all we can really hope for.
If we want our futures to emulate the values of America that we cherish the most and grew up believing in, we can’t be bullied and manipulated in the political process. In a system that is becoming egregiously partisan, and increasingly more about what you have and less about what you can do, we can’t stand by and say one explanation is good enough. We have to ask tough questions and demand tough answers. After all, it’s our future that’s at stake.
Chris Morgan is a graduate of Union High School in Vancouver and a junior at Washington State University studying pre-law and political science.