I remember casting my first vote for Barack Obama in 2008. Many of my stereotypically politically apathetic friends did the same. But as I’ve gotten more entrenched in politics (if my job with MSNBC didn’t tip you off), many of my friends remained just as apathetic as they were in 2008. The only difference is, because they don’t feel the same rush and excitement they felt the first time around, most of them won’t bother voting in this election. Some think they’re too busy, others are sick of the seemingly never-ending process, many think that their vote is irrelevant anyway.
President Obama is trying to re-woo them nonetheless. He will appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Wednesday and do a 30-minute special with MTV on Friday where he will field questions from young voters. Michelle is also getting in on the action, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live Thursday night. Will this last minute sprint for the ever-elusive 18-24 year old vote be enough to mobilize young voters again?
Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele thinks not—at least not like before. By “before” he means back when 22 million Americans under the age of 30 voted in 2008—a two million person increase from the prior election. Youth voter turnout in 2008 rose two percentage points compared to 2004—49 percent to 51—and eleven points compared to turnout in 2000. Many credit this wave of votes to the grassroots campaigning of the Obama team. But Steele may have a point. Statistics show that young voter turnout dropped 60 percent in the 2010 midterm elections. Granted, turnout tends to be lower in non-presidential elections, but some think the return of apathy could be a sign of things to come.
Heather McGhee from Demos agrees that turnout numbers won’t be the same, an opinion that stems from a different problem: voter laws. “They’re gonna turn out and they’re gonna get stopped,” she said, “too many of them by the ridiculous voting restrictions that are oriented towards keeping them from voting.”
But former Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson are still optimistic that the youth will “show up and show out,” in Dyson’s words. The youth are “gonna help the president, and all the next day the pollsters are gonna say ‘wow, we really underestimated the power of the youth vote,” said Bernstein.
To all of you 18 to 24-ers out there who are too busy, too “over it,” or too anything else: listen to Rachel Maddow: ”We all have the right to remain silent. But if you do not vote…you’re fulfilling somebody else’s plan.”