Why Don’t Young Folks Vote?

Millennials Need to Step Up in November 2020

When I voted early in the 2018 midterm election, I ran into several people I knew. There was a line at a random time on a Friday afternoon. I was impressed. Folks were doing their civic duty. Well, turns out that about half of eligible Americans voted, an improvement over the 30 percent turnout in 2014. In 2018, among those age 65 and older, voter turnout was 65 percent for women and 68 percent for men. In contrast, 38 percent of women and 33 percent of men ages 18–29 years old voted.

No wonder I saw so many people I knew voting that day. Older voters are the most likely to cast ballots. Younger voters, those with the most at stake, tend to stay home. True, this was just a midterm, but it was an important one that determined control of the House of Representatives and many governorships and state legislatures.

The majority of the Millennial generation, now larger than the baby boomers who tend to be faithful voters, disapproves of President Trump and Congress, and also feels that government doesn’t care about them or represent their interests and concerns. Still, they don’t vote in great numbers. And voting is the way to effect change.

Looking at the last two presidential elections, the trend of low voter turnout and over-representation of older voters prevailed. In 2012 when Obama ran against Romney, voters ages 18 to 29 were only 19 percent of the electorate while boomer voters comprised 38 percent of the electorate. Overall, 57.5 percent of eligible voters came out to vote. In 2016, the percentage who bothered to vote was similar, 58 percent. Only about 46 percent of Millennials voted in the that year, but 72 percent of folks in their 70s, 80s, and beyond, managed to cast ballots.

Being part of that older cohort of voters, I’m trying to understand why younger folks don’t bother to vote. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a presidential or midterm election since I cast my first presidential vote in 1968. I was pretty dispirited that year and unhappy with my choices. I had hoped to vote for Bobby Kennedy but he was assassinated. Then, I supported Gene McCarthy, but he lost the Democratic nomination to Hubert Humphrey. So my choices were Humphrey or Nixon, and I voted for Humphrey because I despised Nixon and the war in Vietnam. My point is that, even when the choice was what I thought at the time was the lesser of two evils, I voted.

I’m guessing many younger voters weren’t too excited about voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But those were the choices the system handed us in 2016 and sitting out the election never seemed like an option for me, even if I was unhappy with the nominees and the way the system worked.

That said, I think there are some things that make it harder for Millennials to cast their ballots:

1. Election day is the first Tuesday in November, a ridiculous tradition because it isn’t a national holiday when people don’t have to work. If you have a long work day, which many young folks do these days, you have to stand in long lines hoping you can cast your ballot before the polls close. Voting on a Saturday/Sunday would make more sense.

2. Young people move around frequently, making it harder to register in time.

3. Early voting does include some weekend time, but efforts to shorten that window have impacted the ability for some to vote.

Still, these are pretty lame excuses. It’s the kids coming up, Generation Z (AKA Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, Generation Columbine, or the Homeland Generation), that is leading the way. The students who participated in March for our Lives and the school walkouts following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida seem to understand the power of voting.

To make change, you need to vote. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if the weather is bad. Even if your choices are not what you hoped they would be. Over 40 percent of Americans, the majority of whom are younger voters, don’t even participate in presidential elections.

On his eighteenth birthday, Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg tweeted, “Now that I’m 18, I can vote. Will you?” His peers and thousands of others replied they would. As Thom Hartmann says in the tagline for his progressive radio show,

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Read Laurie’s blog posts on Midcentury Modern here

Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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