Why young people don’t vote

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.
I was leaving PCM last night when I was accosted by Baby Boomers Andre, Pat and Christopher.

“Have you voted yet?” Andre asked.

I voted weeks ago but found myself as my generation’s spokesperson because we were not bringing in the vote like everyone had hoped. Pat mentioned how her son decided he wasn’t going to vote because the parties were too similar. Andre, who’s out today to get out the vote for Obama, was saying that the problem with Millennials was that they vote based solely on principle while generations before us understand that sometimes politicians have to pick and choose battles in order to advance the most important principles

“Whoa, you’re preaching to the choir here!” I protested.

So, in hopes of helping the “Greatest Generation,” the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and some GenXers understand GenY (a.k.a Millennials), here are the primary reasons some in my generation choose not to vote:

  • The Electoral College versus the popular vote: This is the primary reason I’ve heard from those who choose not to vote. Who determined the 2000 election? Al Gore won the popular vote, but Bush got the electoral college. In a system where each state has its own rules for electoral voters but most are winner takes all based on the majority in the state, regular voters hardly have a voice. The Electoral College is also the reason that a vote in, say, Ohio matters more than a vote in California. If the Electoral College didn’t exist, then state lines wouldn’t matter in an election cycle.
  • Identical candidates: Some claim that the candidates are exactly alike. In this particular election cycle, I’d say that this couldn’t be further from the truth. As Andre put it, McCain and Obama are night and day. However, in previous election cycles, very similar candidates got nominated from the Republican and Democratic parties because they had a better chance of pulling in voters from the other party and appealed more to moderate and undecided voters.
  • A two-party system versus pluralist representation: As everyone knows, the only parties that matter on the Hill are Republicans and Democrats. Any situation where there are only two options lends itself to binary opposition. For example, Obama v. McCain. Gore v. Bush. Good v. Evil. Honest v. Liar. Marital infidelity v. Fidelity. Liberal v. Conservative. So on and so forth. However, the Democrats don’t own liberalism just as the Republicans don’t own conservatism. Neither party can encompass all voters in the left nor right spheres. Where are the libertarians? The independents? The Green Party? The U.S. didn’t become a two-party system till the 1860s, but why it continue to be? Consider all of the two-party system candidates who have ran and how they tried to differentiate themselves from one another, how some of them really were different from one another. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Dennis Kucinich… How some party candidates are more similar to the other party’s candidates than to their own party’s. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry. The theatrics that have metastasized since the 1980s (and gave rise to the public journalism movement in the late ’80s-early ’90s) is, at least in my opinion, the inevitable result of our two-party system. Throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a certain Orioles game, bursting out of a tank and snatching the closest machine gun, “reporting for duty” with a salute at a certain convention four years ago… Where there are no viable third or fourth or nth parties, candidates have license to focus on things other than the issues. Pluralist representation during election cycles would raise the quality of campaigning and accurately correspond to the wealth of American political perspectives.

These are the anti-voting reasons that are mentioned most often, and I’ve taken the liberty of elaborating them. For some people, it’s about protesting a faulty system. for others, it’s about protesting political conventions or the Republican and Democratic parties as institutions. To many, politics has become marketing ad populum. Of course, in all generations there are those who claim they’re ill-informed, are apathetic or don’t want to be eligible for jury duty (one of the stipulations of registering to vote). All of those reasons are ridiculous, and I doubt that anybody doesn’t face ridicule from any generation if they cite one of those as their excuse for not voting.

**UPDATE** Someone enlightened me that the presumption that young people aren’t turning out the vote is linked to Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. Apparently, the majority of returned ballots prior to election day have been by older generations. At this point, I’d also like to mention that my generation has perfected the art of procrastination like no other before it.


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