Are we really asking why young people didn’t vote in the midterms?
Okay, fine. Let’s talk.
But if we’re going to talk, can we start by saying that non-presidential youth voter turnout ISN’T DOWN — that it’s been essentially stable since the 1990s? Every cycle youth voter turnout is more or less the same, and every cycle it’s treated as a new Betrayal of the Nation.
And can we also note that while election-week demographic estimates of voting are always crude, the one analysis that we do have at this point says that youth turnout is actually up slightly since the 2010 midterm?
So the question “Why didn’t young people vote?” is already several kinds of stupid.
It gets worse.
We know that Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise young voters. (AS THEY ARE INTENDED TO.) And we know that Voter ID laws are getting uglier and more widespread. So if youth turnout is stable or rising, as it is, that’s actually pretty clear evidence of increased youth interest in electoral politics.
And while yes, young people do tend to vote less frequently than older people, that’s been true since before I was born, and I’m not that young anymore. Anyone alive today who’s whining about youth voter turnout is themselves part of a generation that didn’t turn out to vote in huge numbers when they were young.
The lesson here, as always, is simple: Shut up, old whiners.
Ready to move on? Okay. Let’s look at the exit polls. They show that youth were the ONLY age cohort who went majority Democratic this week.
Again: Shut up, old whiners. Middle-aged people went GOP by eight points. Stop complaining about your kids not canceling out your friends’ votes, jerks.
And the Democrats’ problem this week wasn’t a bunch of tight losses, anyway. It was a bunch of unexpectedly decisive GOP wins. A bump in youth voting doesn’t fix that. There were a few races, like the North Carolina Senate, where a shockingly huge youth turnout might have flipped the result, but not many. In Texas, for instance, under-30 voters split evenly between Davis and Abbot. That’s better for the Dems than what their elders did, but adding more 50-50 voters to a lopsided race doesn’t change the results.
Democrats got shellacked yesterday, and they would have been shellacked worse if young people hadn’t showed up to vote Dem. Youth didn’t lose this election for the Democrats — they saved it from being an even bigger disaster.
And while we’re on THAT subject, can we talk about the fact that we’re in the middle of about ten different political catastrophes for American youth right now? And the fact that the Democratic Party isn’t making any kind of a serious push on any of them?
Public higher education is being dismantled in this country. Young black men are being shot by cops with impunity. Youth unemployment is through the roof, and the jobs that do exist mostly suck. And on and on and on.
Show me the Democratic candidate who made the case for tuition cuts in this election. Show me the Democratic office-holders who are serious about reining in cops. About jobs programs. Show me the candidates who are fighting for young people, giving young people a reason to vote, a reason to be passionate about electoral politics. They don’t exist.
Democratic candidates and elected officials constantly crap on youth. And despite that incontrovertible fact, young people remain a core base constituency for the Democratic Party.
Why aren’t young people voting? THEY ARE. But how long do you think you can trick them into continuing without giving them anything back?
You want to increase youth voting? Cool. Pay attention to youth voters. Give them some wins on the legislative level. And take youth voter registration seriously — when people are registered, they tend to vote, and first-time voters have inertia working against them.
And here’s another thing we could do: Reduce the voting age to 16, like they’ve done in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Scotland.
Today in America, young people tend to start voting (or not) right as they’re moving — to college, to work, away from home. That’s a roadblock to registration, and to voting, and it’s one of the (many) reasons I support a 16-year-old voting age.
Get folks registered before they move out of their parents’ house. Get them voting. Get them in the system. People who vote stay voters. People who don’t vote stay non-voters. It’s easier to get people to start at 16 than at 18. So let’s do it. And let’s stop whining.
This post is a lightly edited version of a Twitter rant from last night.