In America, young voters are new normal
It feels awfully good to make the pundits eat their words.
We know, because we were told that we, the millennial generation of voters ages 32 and younger, weren’t going to have an impact on this election, that we weren’t excited—that we didn’t matter. Boy, were they wrong.
Statistics prove just how wrong they were: In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (80 electoral votes total), if President Obama’s majority in the youth vote were instead a 50/50 split, each state would go from blue to red. And Gov. Romney would be the new president.
With three consecutive presidential election cycles of high young voter turnout, the picture comes into focus: Young voter participation is “the new normal.”
Dozens of youth groups—local, statewide and national, student and nonstudent—worked to make sure that every young American who wanted to vote was registered, made it to the polls and had that person’s vote counted. This was a peer-to-peer movement that built its own steam and unstoppable momentum leading to Election Day.
The efforts in Wisconsin were complicated by the voter ID law, which was struck down by courts as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote. Further complicating matters were the self-appointed poll watchers who tried to intimidate and harass voters, primarily in minority communities. But the education, outreach and support efforts undertaken before the election and on Election Day ensured that all who were eligible to vote had the opportunities to cast ballots and be assured their votes would count.
We must ensure that young people get engaged and remain motivated, and not simply because they will bear the consequences of decisions made in Washington for the longest time. Research shows that when young people are engaged and treated seriously in the political process, they stay engaged. We are only enacting a lesson Madison Avenue learned decades ago: If you “brand” people young, they stay branded—if they’re buying Brand X toothpaste at 25, they’ll be buying it at 65.
We’re branding voters.
We offer our congratulations to President Obama on his victory, and to Gov. Romney on his gracious acceptance of defeat. Let us heed the words of both, that this is not a time for partisan acrimony, but for unity and community, helping our nation recover from economic and natural disasters, and moving our country forward.
We would add this: Young Americans are a force that yearns to participate and contribute. Make us part of the decision-making process, and treat us as equal partners in our society.
Do not mistake the media creation of the disinterested, uninformed slacker kids for the movement we have helped create. The people saying for weeks that we had an “enthusiasm gap” are today explaining how the parties have to face the new American electorate and its crucial components: women, minorities and youth.
They are just learning what we have known for a long, long time: We are the new normal.
Rob “Biko” Baker is executive director of the League of Young Voters, Milwaukee; email Biko@youngvoter.org. Alexandra Acker-Lyons is director of the Youth Engagement Fund, Washington, D.C.; email email@example.com.