By Maya Lannen, guest writer.
The static glow of the TV is the only light in the room. Parents stare with wide eyes and clenched jaws, while their daughter sleeps on the couch. Tension fills the air, the verdict so imminent they feel they could reach out and touch it. The newscast seems to have dropped off into an empty space that the announcers can’t seem to fill. In a moment, it’s all over. Across the country, working-class Americans drop their heads into their hands as Florida lights up red on the screen. Twenty-five electoral votes secure the victory for George W. Bush, beginning an era of conservative politics that rivals even his father’s presidency.
The year is 2000. Fifteen years later, a magnet on a working mother’s refrigerator shows a drawing of George W. Bush, with the caption, “I bet you’ll vote next time, hippie!”
The election in 2000 was controversial for many reasons. Democrat Al Gore defeated Bush in the popular vote, causing many to believe that he should have won the election. The vote in Florida was so close that the Florida Supreme Court called for a recount. This recount, however, was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Florida’s electoral votes were awarded to Bush, defeating Gore once and for all. From the scandal of the recount, to the influence of the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, Bush’s victory was a result of many confounding factors.
In light of these problems, discourse tends to overlook another important influence. The 2000 election showed one of the lowest turnouts of young voters in recent history.
“Only 36.1 percent of U.S. citizens aged 18 to 24 voted in 2000,” according to the Center for Information and Research on Civics Learning and Education (CIRCLE).
With the 2016 presidential election looming around the corner, it’s important for young voters to understand their political rights and responsibilities. In the upcoming election, liberal millennials need to step up to the plate and vote for the Democratic candidate. Otherwise, we risk another Republican victory.
As baby boomers age, millennials are moving into the forefront of American politics. The “hippies” of the modern age, these teenagers and twenty-somethings seem to have as much political power, and as little drive to use it, as the young adults who failed to vote in 2000.
“Voters aged 18 to 24 see an average turnout of only 41.8 percent – the lowest of any age group, by a wide margin,” according to the Center for Voting and Democracy.
As a result, older generations often have much greater influence over elections and American politics – an influence which almost always favors conservative government. Young voters tend to lean to the left, while older generations lean to the right.
“Millennials are the most liberal generation yet, with 54 percent in support of the Democratic Party, and only 35 percent in support of the Republican Party,” according to the Pew Research Center.
History shows us that presidential elections with lower young voter turnouts are more likely to see Republican victories.
“Turnout for voters aged 18 to 24 saw considerable dips in the elections of Ronald Reagan (1980), George H.W. Bush (1988), and George W. Bush (2000),” according to the United States Census Bureau, “The elections of 2008 and 2012, which saw two victories for President Obama, had young voter turnouts of over 45 percent, some of the highest in recent history.”
These trends make it clear that young voters have the ability to secure Democratic victories. Unfortunately millennials are hesitant to use this power. Non-voters, especially millennials, give a variety of reasons for their failure to cast their ballots.
“Two-thirds of young people don’t believe that their vote will “make a difference,” according to a poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics.
Others, especially liberals, find that voting is a choice between the “lesser of two evils,” and that Democratic candidates with some moderate policies are too far right to deserve their vote. These people believe that not voting, or voting for a third-party candidate, sends a message of disagreement with America’s two-party system.
On his blog, Ramblings, political blogger Ram Samudrala unpacks his reasons for not voting.
“Ultimately, in a gross philosophical sense, the motivation for not voting is the same as the one for voting. People say they vote to make a political statement, to have a say in things (albeit indirectly). Not voting is making an equally valid political statement, but one that is made about the whole system, not just a candidate,” Samudrala said.
Samudrala, and others like him, have a point – the partisan nature of American politics, and the corruption that surrounds elections, deeply threaten our political process. But this reasoning goes awry when it concludes that steering clear of the polls will change the system. As dysfunctional as the election process may be, failure to vote does not make a statement. It merely removes the non-voter’s voice from political conversation. The only sure-fire way to make a difference is to cast your vote for the major party whose ideals best support your interests. If this means voting for the lesser of two evils, that’s a bitter pill we might just have to swallow in order to keep the opposing candidate out of office.
Some millennials already know the importance of voting. Loy Norrix senior Jessica Lynk says that she will definitely vote in 2016.
“I’m allowed to, and I want to be involved. That way I can’t complain about the outcome of an election,” Lynk said.
Lynk understands that voting is not only a right, but a responsibility, and her initiative shows that motivated young people really can make a difference. Voting is the public’s most powerful political tool, and young liberals’ rejection of this responsibility is dangerous to Democratic candidates.
In 2016, the decision between a victory for Hillary Clinton (or, less likely, Bernie Sanders), and a Republican like Jeb Bush or Donald Trump, could come down to young voters. Even in light of President Obama’s leftist platform, America remains at the hands of a Republican congress. Electing a Republican in 2016 would be disastrous to the liberal ideals that most millennials value, and it’s our responsibility to protect those ideals.
My plea to young, liberal Americans is simple: vote Democrat in 2016. Understand that your vote counts, and that by taking initiative now, you have the power to turn the tides away from the conservative ideals favored by our parents and grandparents. Remember Al Gore, remember 2000, and remember that the voice of this generation has the power to shape our country’s future.