Maybe you think that’s a good thing because you don’t like Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate most popular among the youngest eligible voters. But that’s a short-sighted view.
Hoping young people don’t vote because of the decisions they might make is like hoping your child never learns to walk because you’re afraid of where he or she might go. In the long run, that wouldn’t be good for your child or your family. Likewise, if young people don’t get into the habit of voting, that won’t be good for the nation’s future.
USA Today surveyed the damage Wednesday morning. Only 10% of Alabma’s voters were in the 17-29 age group, compared to 14% in the 2016 presidential primary. In North Carolina, they were 14% of the electorate, compared to 16% in 2016. In South Carolina, they were 11%, compared to 15% four years ago. In Tennessee, they were 11%, compared to to 15% in 2016, and in Virginia, they were 13% compared to 16%.
You get the idea. Figures were roughly the same in Texas and Massachusetts.
Statistics can be tricky things. The percentage of young people as part of the overall electorate is not the same as the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots. But with the upper reaches of the massive baby boom generation slowly dying out, young people ought to be increasing as a percentage of the whole, not decreasing.
I checked with Utah elections officials, but they won’t have specific demographic data for Tuesday’s election for a while. State Director of Elections Justin Lee did tell me that overall turnout was about 35%, but even that healthy figure (for a primary) has to be tempered somewhat. It’s a percentage of registered voters, not of all those who were eligible to vote.
Maybe young people aren’t voting because the adults in their lives don’t vote, either.
You’ll find no shortage of experts offering solutions to this problem. In an op-ed published Tuesday by the New York Daily News, John B. Holbein and D. Sunshine Hillygus, professors at the University of Virginia and Duke University, respectively, said the problem has nothing to do with apathy. Young people are interested in politics.
The problem, they said, is that we make it too hard to vote.
If you’re a Utahn, you might have a hard time reading their recommendations without smiling. The first two — allow people to register on the day they vote and allow underaged teens to preregister — are already in place here.
And yet, while much of the nation celebrated an increase in youth turnout in 2018, Utah, New York and Arkansas had the lowest rates. In Utah, it was 16.8%. Bad as that was, it was double what it had been in 2014.
I have trouble with the idea that people don’t vote because it’s too hard or because they aren’t sufficiently energized by an exciting candidate. This doesn’t mean I oppose same-day registration, mail-in ballots or anything else that makes voting easier. It’s just that voting isn’t a chore you should be nagged into doing, like changing your oil or cleaning the refrigerator. It’s a civic duty and an outward expression of your engagement in the world around you.
Republics don’t exist to entertain voters with exciting choices that divide neatly along ideological lines. Part of civic duty involves gathering information and weighing ideological compromises. In the end, people should seek to make an informed choice they feel is the best among the options presented.
It’s this idea that needs to be conveyed to the rising generation, as well as to too many in the older generations who opt out because they feel uninspired.
Holbein and Hillygus also recommend improving how schools teach civics. Teach students how to discuss and understand issues, give them the skills needed to vote and teach them why it’s a duty and a way of honoring the system that has given them so much.
That’s a great idea, although it’s hard to measure. They also lay out the case as to why “youth voter turnout is at crisis levels in our country.” The U.S., they note, has the lowest youth turnout in the world.
That crisis might not be apparent for a few years, but if nothing changes before today’s young people become old, the experiment of self-government could be in jeopardy.