The term “enthusiasm gap” got thrown around a lot this election cycle, particularly with regards to young voters. The 24 news media waxed poetic about how the magic of Obama’s first term hadn’t panned out, and how an apathetic youth vote wasn’t going to do him any favors this election cycle.
I disagree – I think our enthusiasm (I say “our” because I too am part of the “youth vote”) was more cautious, more quiet, but just as present, this cycle. There was urgency to the youth vote, and the encouragement for young people to vote was unparalleled.
The narrative the news was telling was one of disillusioned young people, made apathetic by a host of broken promises from Washington. These recent graduates were saddled with student debt, often unemployed or underemployed, and saw no reason to vote.
Which is ridiculous – it’s every reason to vote.
Looking at numbers, the youth turnout looks small – only 19% of voters in this year’s election were 18-29 year olds. It’s not as much as it should be, let’s be honest. But it’s still an increase over 2008’s youth turnout, which was an increase over 2004’s.
But as talking heads talked smack on my generation for being apathetic, what I saw this election was a passionate response from young people for candidates and issues alike.
At 7 AM, only an hour after the polls closed, there were lines around the block – and a good chunk of that line was youth. In the months leading up to November, a flurry of “I just registered!” and “Just got my absentee ballot” statuses popped up on Facebook. College kids were phone banking for state and national candidates. Friends were knocking on doors in swing states not just for candidates, but for ballot initiatives as well. A dozen friends worked on campaigns. And several friends jumped on social media to tell friends they had cars, if they needed rides to the polls – and helped get other voters a ride as well.
The weekend before elections, I was in Burke, VA, knocking on doors to get out the vote (GOTV), and I was amazed at how many young people were carpooling to remote corners of the state to convince people that they needed to vote, and that their voices mattered. There’s no other way to describe it – it was inspiring.
So I don’t know what election the media was watching, but the one that I saw had a level of passion and enthusiasm among young voters that I had never seen before.