Today’s young American voters have come a long way from Mick Jagger’s “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and are getting the satisfaction they deserve by realizing that their votes matter.
“Given the power of the internet, and [the fact that] young people understand it better than any other generation, there's nothing stopping young people [from] being as powerful as they want to be,” said Emily Freifeld, a Washingtonpost.com political reporter.
The younger generations of America have taken off and have begun to rally support from within their own age bracket. Young Americans are aware of how powerful their vote is, and have taken on the challenge of making sure they take full advantage of that power granted to them in the Twenty-Sixth Amendment passed in 1971.
According to CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), a non-partisian group that follows trends in youth voting, young voter turnouts for the 2008 primaries (voters between the ages of 18-29) have been much higher compared to past elections. In fact, some states such as Florida, Georgia and Iowa have even had triple the amount of young voters. Tennessee had the largest increase between the 2000 and 2008 primaries, quadrupling from four percent to 15 percent respectively.
With the sudden increase in young voter interest, it’s no surprise that political candidates are playing up to the needs of young voters. Youtube.com videos featuring celebrities, Myspace pages with easy access to candidate information, and platforms that echo the cries of young supporters are all ways candidates are appealing to the younger generation.
“I think [the use of internet technology in the election] can be a good thing because the youth need to feel included,” said Michelle Mahar, a senior at The American Univerisity. “They are often times forgotten and it causes resentment.”
Recently, however, youth voters are making sure they are not forgotten. Take for example 21-year-old Jason Rae, the youngest Superdelegate in the nation currently studying at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Rae is making sure he proves to people that are his age, that young voters can make a difference.
Rae was elected into the Democratic National Committee in 2004 based on a platform he explained as “trying to represent America’s next generation of voters.” After previously attending the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as a special guest of the Wisconsin delegation, Rae said that he is excited to be attending this year’s meeting as a Superdelegate.
“The one thing I like to tell people is that their vote does matter,” said Rae. “People often say my vote is not going to matter, it’s not going to decide anything. Well, in all actuality when you vote, the candidates you vote for usually win.”
Rae has been seen on youth-voter-friendly circuits from the Daily Show to Anderson Cooper’s 360, all of which focused on how Rae was so young, yet was still able to accomplish so much in the political field.
Rae said he had no idea he was actually going to win the election, but his winning has proved that young people can become more involved in elections.
“[When I was running for the DNC] I was really just trying to get the message out there that young people should be involved more in big party decisions,” said Rae.
Rae’s platform seems to have transcribed onto the smaller level as well. College students all across the nation are taking part in the election.
Walk onto any college campus and you will find a politically active group. There are 30 registered Young Democrats of America action groups listed within five miles of the 20016 Washington, D.C., zip code alone, according to the YDA website.
“Universities are reporting that their students voted in state primaries in record numbers to make other students realize young voters are making a difference,” said Tara Frick, an intern for the DNC. “The Democratic Party was relying on the Penn State bloc to vote during the Pennsylvania Primary, and they did, in huge numbers.”
Frick explained that interest in the election among younger voters has spurred up in the recent 2008 election because young supporters are realizing they have a lot of pull when it comes to elections. Frick also explained how the Internet is an aid when it comes to getting the word out to young voters about candidates.
“I think the Facebook pages have allowed the candidates and [their] issues to be reachable to young people who are on Facebook every day,” said Frick. “Even if you’re not looking at the political pages, you see them on other peoples' pages and awareness spreads.”
James Kotecki, the host of PlaybookTV on Politico.com, said that “it’s hard to determine whether the Internet influenced [the] youth or the other way around.” Kotecki was sure to add that people often contact him and let him know that they get their political news from him.
However, no one can be sure where this new found interest spurred up from. Will Haun, President of the American University College Republicans, believes it has something to do with the fact that several issues that the candidates of this election are concerned with effect many young voters.
“All of the issues facing the country today--the war on terror, social security, tax reform, health care, the supreme court--are all issues that are going to require long-term solutions that will shape the world I get a job in, have a family in, and become a leader in,” said Haun. “There is no single voter demographic that will be more affected by the issues of this election than my own, and so just for the sake of our own self-interest, it is crucial that we get out and vote.”
While Haun believes young voters are out driving people within their generation to vote because of platforms that they are concerned with, Freifeld believes it is Barack Obama that seems to be stirring young voters up.
“Youth voters are much more active during this presidential cycle largely because of Barack Obama,” said Freifeld. “Obama [is] so appealing [because of] his message of bi-partisanship and working-together attitude. This generation grew up in a very polarized political climate. Obama's reconciliatory message is refreshing.”
Even though there has been an explosion of youth voters realizing the power and potential their vote garners, it still remains to be seen if young voters will actually show up to the polls in November.
“Sure, I can wave a sign on the weekends and knock on some doors,” said Haun continuing with, “do you honestly think I can skip class, wait in a long line to vote for someone that I have been hearing so much negative garbage about for the past 10 months that I just don’t care enough anymore?”
Haun believes with regret that although young voters are aware of the potential change they can make in the nation, it all boils down to the fact that the youth will only get to the polls if its made simpler.
“Until voting becomes an online phenomenon, or the issues facing America’s 18-24 year olds are right up in their faces as opposed to long-term problems, you won’t ever see an across the board explosion of youth turnout at the ballot box,” said Haun.