Politicians shouldn’t underestimate youth vote

denishiza / Pixabay
denishiza / Pixabay

AI pointed out in my last column, although Bernie Sanders had much more momentum heading into the Iowa caucuses than initially anticipated, he was still an underdog, with FiveThirtyEight giving Sanders a 27 percent chance of winning. Coming out so much stronger than predicted in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, his stump speech on election night sounded a lot like a victory speech.

One of the least anticipated aspects of Bernie’s near-victory in Iowa and victory in New Hampshire was the turnout of youth voters. He took 84 percent of caucus-goers under 30 in Iowa and 87 percent in New Hampshire according to The Atlantic’s Feb. 9 profile of youth voters. Those kinds of margins are unheard of in any voter bloc, much less one as diverse as millennials. 

In an NPR interview on Feb. 3, a youth vote researcher from Tufts University pointed out that the youth voter turnout in Iowa was the second highest in the last 20 years. She also found that depending on the year, the youth vote changes allegiances between the Republican candidates and the Democratic candidates. This means that young people are a dynamic voter base, which is highly valuable in the political world since many votes are already locked up in one party.

Signs are pointing to the youth vote being more important than ever this year, but one candidate in particular is not responding well to this new dynamic. There have been a slew of major Clinton supporters speaking out against young people, young women in particular. First, in an interview for The New York Times Magazine, Democratic National Committee Chair and Miami Beach Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz answered a question about why young women were not supporting Clinton by saying, “Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”

Bill Maher’s interview with Gloria Steinem last week included a snickering bash at young women, “When you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Then, the first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright derided young women with the quip, “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

The implication here is that young women do not care about feminism, and if they did, they would definitely vote for Hillary Clinton. This is a ridiculous and factually inaccurate premise. According to a 2013 Economist/YouGov poll, women under 30 are more likely than any other age group to identify themselves as feminists.

Bernie Sanders has similar views to Hillary Clinton on women’s rights. Young people are rational; they are basing their support on serious policy differences, not the assumed gender biases of the candidates. If anything, these gaffes only make young women defensive and more ardent in their support for Sanders.

These comments were seriously misguided and actively destructive to the Clinton campaign. What makes these political figures think they will win back support from this youth constituency by attacking them for their beliefs or perceived lack thereof? In her New Hampshire concession speech, Clinton herself said she recognizes that to win this nomination, she will need to do better with the young voters – another sign the youth vote is more formidable than ever this election cycle.

Young people are not sex-crazed goons who make important election decisions based on whims or complacency. We are endowed the right to vote at age 18 because not only is this when we become capable of making rational and informed decisions, but it is also when we are required to do so.  College decisions, budgets, career paths and relationships – all of these life-altering factors are tough decisions that have to be made at our age. Individuals make the biggest decisions of their lives before the age of 30, yet prominent political figures still assume young people make decisions based on hormones and cute social media posts.

We are not complacent and we are not uninformed. A Pew Research Center report from Feb. 4 demonstrated that although Democratic millennial voters were more likely than any other generation to learn about the election through social media, 97 percent of millennial Democrats turned to at least one news source to find out about the election and most turned to more than one news source.

Just because news comes from social media does not necessarily mean it is misinformation, especially when backed up by other sources. Though interestingly, among likely Republican millennial voters, they were not more likely than the general population to get news from social media.

Young people care about our nation’s future. Arguments for social security reform or climate change preventions frequently use the argument with older voters that if they care about their children’s future, they should pass certain reforms. It’s a great sentiment but has proven ineffective.

Voters over age 45, who vote more consistently and in higher proportion than those under 45 according to the Census Bureau, have favored candidates who protect their imminent social security and medical care benefits. A 2014 Gallup poll asked respondents to identify as a “Concerned Believer, Mixed Middle or Cool Skeptic” with respect to climate change. The findings included that the majority of “Concerned Believers” were under age 50 and the majority of “Cool Skeptics” were over age 50. Older people become detached from issues that aren’t likely to directly affect them. Appealing to younger voters and encouraging their turnout means a more secure future for our nation.

Last week my fellow columnist Danny New remarked that Hillary Clinton’s supposedly secure candidacy “won’t work with the hipster generation known as the millennials. They need to feel like they made their own choice, even if there’s only one other alternative.”

This may a tongue-in-cheek assertion, but he’s right. Millennials have a choice in this election and are making their voices heard. The youth vote should not be ignored or belittled. The last day to register to vote in the 2016 voter primary is Tuesday, Feb. 16. To keep up the momentum, register online or in the Breezeway from 12-2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15 and put our generation’s votes at the center of this election.

Annie Cappetta is a sophomore majoring in ecosystem science and policy and political science. Vantage Point runs alternate Mondays.

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user denishiza