Your vote is your voice. Use it.
I vividly remember bundling up on January 20th, 2009, and walking the frigid streets of Capitol Hill while Barack Obama took the oath of office to become our nation’s first black president. I never caught a glimpse of the ceremony itself, but among thousands of happy Americans, I still felt like a part of the historical moment.
Less than four years later, I voted for the first time, casting my absentee ballot in support of President Obama. I’ll never forget when the results became official. My friends and I celebrated and yelled as loud as we could, our voices bouncing off the thin dorm room walls.
Unfortunately, the current presidential election does not bring me a similar sense of excitement. I did not joyfully cast my ballot.
I voted for Hillary Clinton, despite not being thrilled about her, because Donald Trump’s rhetoric is sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-minority in just about every other way possible.
This time around, I strictly voted to perform my civic duty. I cannot picture living with Trump as my president. My vote was a protest against him and everything he represents.
Sadly, the majority of young adults will not bother to vote. Those individuals should lose the ability to criticize the actions of our future president (who will hopefully be Clinton).
Young adult voting by the numbers
Back in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau produced a report titled Young-Adult Voting: An Analysis of Presidential Elections, 1964-2012.
In every presidential election since 1964, young adults ages 18 to 24 have voted at significantly lower rates than those in all other age groups. According to the report, the 2012 presidential election saw only 38 percent voter turnout among young adults. That was a noticeable dip from the group’s 44.3 percent voting rate in 2008.
I reviewed the 2012 Census voting and registration reports to verify turnout by race: black voters ages 18 to 24 were the most active at 48.7 percent — that made me proud. But that is not good enough. Young people of all races have to turn out to the polls in greater numbers.
The addition of voters ages 25 to 29 does not change the narrative much for young people. Four years ago, voters ages 18 to 29 made up only 15.4 percent of the voting population and voted at a rate of 45 percent.
For the 2012 presidential election, adults 65 and older voted at a rate of 69.7 percent, according to census data. Voters between the ages of 45 and 64 were not far behind at 63.4 percent.
Why do young people statistically undervalue the opportunity to vote? Our inaction is shameful.
The long road to the White House in 2016
As we press on toward Tuesday’s election, politicians, particularly President Obama, continue to talk about the importance of the millennial vote. While this is presented as a call for young adults to invest in their futures, it is more likely a final effort to bolster support for a group of candidates who have been on shaky ground with young voters.
“Voters across all age groups are left scratching their heads about what to think of these candidates, and dragging their feet as the decision deadline approaches.”
At the end of October, GenForward released results from a survey of adults ages 18-30. In comparison to young people who voted for President Obama in 2012, Clinton has more support from young white voters, and less from all other ethnic groups surveyed, although she still holds a majority of the young vote.
The survey showed a sharp increase in young white voter support for Clinton over Trump — 35 percent to 21 percent. This was up from September, when they were tied at 27 percent. Clinton’s lead is even larger among young white voters who are likely to participate: 51 percent to Trump’s 23 percent.
The contrast among young likely voters of color is more severe: Clinton dominates Trump among African Americans (76 percent to 3 percent), Asian Americans (52 percent to 15 percent) and Latino/a Americans (57 percent to 13 percent).
Young voters are promising the majority of their support to one of the major party candidates, even in a race that has left many Americans unsure of how to vote — and uncertain of the outcome.
In the midst of ongoing scandal, voters across all age groups are left scratching their heads about what to think of these candidates, and dragging their feet as the decision deadline approaches.
Reaching unprecedented polarization
I don’t have a political science background, but I did take a class on the American presidency while in college. I read a book by two prize-winning presidential scholars, Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese, called The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, which discusses the trends and complexities of the presidency from the days of George Washington through Obama’s first term.
The book devotes an entire chapter to how we elect presidents in the modern America, and it has helped me make sense of the current election’s historical backdrop.
Increasingly since Watergate and the Vietnam war, the voting public has favored presidential candidates who are considered Washington outsiders. Their anti-establishment characteristics and rhetoric attract voters who believe the outsider represents revolutionary political thought — however they define that.
Cronin and Genovese analyzed Gallup poll data from 1958 to 2011, just before the last presidential election, to asses the public’s trust in the federal government. According to those statistics, the American public has grown extremely skeptical of the government and its ability to do the right thing.
In 1958, nearly 75 percent of Americans believed the government would do what’s right either most of the time or at least some of the time.
In 2011, that figure was roughly 13 percent.
The book highlights that four of the six presidents since Vietnam and Watergate have had no Washington experience at all. And President Obama had little experience as a U.S. senator in comparison to the tenures of others.
Looking at our current presidential election, Hillary Clinton is definitely a Washington insider with her share of scandals. That makes people uneasy, myself included.
And Donald Trump is bigly playing the anti-establishment card, claiming our system is rigged, rallying his predominantly white voter base. But he’s doing so in a dangerous way. A way that has only further divided our country and makes me fearful for the safety of Americans after Tuesday’s election — regardless of its outcome.
Social media debate amounts to almost nothing
Battles rage every day over which candidate is more fit (or unfit) to serve as president of the United States, and most of it happens on social media. Conversely, I try to resist the urge to debate political opinions with anyone online.
On social media, especially Facebook, nearly every piece of content shared regarding the current presidential race reaches like-minded individuals. On the rare occasion that someone comments on a post to express a differing opinion, they’d better know how to fight for their views, or worse: prepare to be unfriended or blocked.
“In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins.” –Drew Westen
Is anything ever accomplished in all of this finger-cramping back and forth effort? Is either side’s opinion ever changed? Rarely.
In Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Cronin and Genovese lean on the research of neuroscientist Drew Westen — who holds degrees from Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the University of Sussex in England — to explain how voters choose which candidate to support.
According to Westen, those who vote in the presidential election usually make their choice not based on a candidate’s policies, but rather the feelings a candidate evokes. “In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins,” he said.
Westen believes that the most successful campaigns appeal to “the marketplace of emotions,” not “the marketplace of ideas.” Unfortunately, Trump has run a successful campaign in this manner, which is why he’s on the doorstep of the American presidency.
I agree with Westen. His views apply directly to our social media political battles: they are largely a waste of time and energy. Instead, if we put more emphasis on how to actually effect change, we’d be less stressed and more productive. President Obama’s defense of a Trump supporter who was heckled at a Clinton rally in North Carolina on Friday afternoon was admirable and highlights that point.
“I told you to be focused and you’re not focused right now,” Obama said to the angered Clinton supporters. He listed multiple reasons to respect the Trump supporter — including his right to free speech — and ended with, “don’t boo, vote.”
I’d like to add to Obama’s message: do not overly invest in the political views of others online because you can’t dictate them. Stay on task. Focus on controlling what is within your power: fulfilling your civic responsibility to vote.
If you didn’t vote early and don’t plan to vote on Tuesday, your opinion carries no weight. You forfeit your voice when you forfeit your vote.