How did an unknown Senator from Chicago become our nation’s first African American President?
Was it money? Barack Obama did out raise both John McCain and Mitt Romney in both of his two campaigns, but money alone could not push him over the top.
Was it political rhetoric and spin? Granted, Obama performed exceptionally well in the 2008 primary elections, and it was—is—clear that Obama is a tremendous public speaker, but he was up against Hillary Clinton, a polished politician and debater in her own respect.
Here is the answer: Obama did what no other politician since perhaps Reagan had been able to do. He invigorated, excited, and inspired young voters.
Winning the youth vote, for many years, had not been much of an accomplishment.
Politicians glazed over American’s newest and youngest citizens, seeing as eighteen to twenty-nine year olds were the lowest voting demographic.
Apathy grew and voter turnout continued to shrink.
Obama ended this trend. In his 2012 campaign for re-election, Obama garnered 67 percent of the national youth vote to Romney’s 30 percent.
The Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that in battle ground states like Florida and Ohio, the young vote turned out to be the deciding factor, allowing Obama to cruise to victory.
According to the study, had the two split the young vote 50-50, Romney would have been the victor in the same states.
Obama proved just how powerful young voters can be.
The new generation of voters has the numbers to have a strong influence on elections, and, as seen in 2012, maybe even determine the winner.
And still, young voter turnout dropped to just 13 percent in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Plugged In But Disconnected
Millennial and the newly coined Generation X voters are unlike anything the country has seen.
We live in an age of convenience and expediency, and neither descriptor is applicable to politics, especially in this time of partisan bickering and divided government.
For these voters, politics is no different than an app, or a song, or a game. If we do not like it, we can just delete it, right?
Today’s technology allows voters access to a never ending cycle of news.
This gives them the ability to stay up to date on events faster than ever before, and to share their opinions more easily.
The problem with a Twitter newsfeed is that it is constantly changing; something new is always happening.
It gives voters the impression that if it is out of sight, it is out of mind.
In the moment, the new voters are as passionate and as interested as their older counterparts.
They tweet vigorously; there are an accumulation of hashtags raising awareness.
But those tweets do not reach the ballot.
While it is great to voice an opinion on social media, if that is where the user stops, then that is as far as the movement will go.
Complaining about Congress, or presidential candidates, or the president’s policies is great. Being informed is terrific.
In a democracy, though, your vote is your voice. It speaks louder than any tweet, reaches farther than any hashtag.
This is where the new voter disconnects.
In Politics You Reap What You Sow
“It seems like there is strong discontent with the system. Teens just don’t think that their vote matters, or that it won’t have an impact on the election. The thing about politics is that you get out of it what you put in,” senior Olivia Pertierra said.
It is completely valid to feel that one vote won’t matter, and the truth is that in the grand scheme of things it probably won’t.
An issue arises however, when millions abide by this notion, and skip out on Election Day.
That affects an election. In the 2014 mid-term elections, young voter turnout was 13 percent. Today, the 114th Congress, which was elected in that voting cycle, is nearing all-time lows in approval ratings, at nearly 13 percent approval.
There are certainly systemic issues within our politics.
Candidates on both sides of the aisle have brought attention to issues like campaign contributions and gerrymandering, among other things.
Apathy, however, does not spur change. It does not bring progress.
“It is hypocritical, in a sense, to complain about a political climate that you helped create,” Pertierra said.
If someone is discontent with their representative, they can simply elect someone else that will get the job done.
But to sit on the sidelines, and then complain at the end of the game just does not make sense.
What has traditionally led to a lack of motivation for younger voters has been their importance.
They feel as if their vote does not count.
They are just another one of the millions, and your average eighteen to twenty-five year old cannot make an impact in the political system.
This is what the recent events in American political history has encouraged them to believe.
In a political arena, where the competing powers are corporations, interest groups, and the bureaucratic traffic jam of Washington, it is easy to forget about the little guys.
The average American cannot donate as much to a super PAC as could a billionaire and this has created a system where it makes more sense to appease the extraordinarily wealthy than the average every day American citizens.
In a political landscape where it takes money to win elections, you have got to think you are going to owe a few more favors to the group that gave you millions of dollars versus the group that gave you $2,500.
The amount of money given to Bush and Cheney in their 2004 election (five years before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision) was roughly 260 million dollars.
In 2012, (three years after Citizens United) Obama raised 1.06 billion dollars.
This excess of money in politics is bad for the health and stability of our democracy. It has propelled special interests above the interests of our citizens.
And do not blame the politicians; what they are doing is logical: they are not biting the hand that feeds them.
Thankfully, there is a solution. There is a remedy to solve the issues with campaign finance, and to solve any number of issues that young voters are concerned with.
The responsibility to find these solutions lies solely in the hands of young voters.
President Obama spoke on the issue of voter turnout earlier this month.
“If 99 percent of us voted, then it wouldn’t matter how much the 1 percent spends on elections,” Obama said.
This is, in its simplest form, the beauty of a democracy.
The cries that say the voice of the majority is being drowned out are valid.
The billions of dollars spent on elections have an outstanding impact on our political system, the reverberations of which are still being felt.
There is one place that is immune to money’s influence. The ballot box.
And a vote reaches farther than a dollar ever will.