For decades, political pundits and pollsters have talked about “the youth vote.” The problem: The “youth” don’t show up at the polls.
Even in the midst of the Vietnam War, when President Nixon was harangued daily over the unpopular ground war, the youth didn’t turn out. They protested, then smoked some weed and didn’t vote. Nixon won reelection in a landslide in 1972, taking every state but Massachusetts and defeating his opponent in the Electoral College by a vote of 520-17. That’s a thumping.
The youth, though, did turn out in 2008. Young people are (thank God) eternally optimistic, and they didn’t know that Barack Obama, while promising a post-partisan political world, would polarize Americans like few predecessors. In that election, 66% of young voters — 18-29 — cast ballots for the “hope and change” candidate.
That didn’t work out so well for them. In January 2014, just 41% of 18-to-29-year-olds approved of the job Obama was doing, with a majority (56%) disapproving, a Harvard poll found (many of those disapproving youth were then living in their parents’ basement). A whopping 57% disapproved of Obamacare (just 38% approved).
And now comes Bernie and Biden.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont, is 78. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is way younger, just 77. Not exactly the guys you’d think would inspire the youth vote.
Bernie, unlike Joe, supposedly draws massive support from the youngsters. He has, the mainstream media say, tapped into the youth vote (maybe, just maybe, promising to do away with all that college debt is spurring support from the kids who just got out of college).
But it’s more than that: The dire predictions about climate change — an important issue for young people — feed into the media frenzy that inundates everyone every day. What’s more, most young people have no direct knowledge of the scourge of communism or socialism, so they’re good with a socialist.
Plus, the coolest old guy ever wants to decriminalize cannabis, so, hey, the youth are all in on that, too.
But they just don’t vote. One post on Reddit after Super Tuesday featured a picture of Mr. Sanders and the text, “I am once again asking you, stop memeing and go vote.”
Super Tuesday was anything but super.
“According to results from the NBC News exit poll released at around 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday — two hours before the first poll closings in eastern states — only 13% of Democratic voters in the Super Tuesday primaries are between the ages of 18 and 29. That is 10 percentage points fewer than the second-least likely voters — the 30-44 age group, which made up 23% of Tuesday’s electorate,” wrote Jonathan Vankin at the Inquisitr.
Voters between the ages of 45 and 64, meanwhile, came in at 35% while voters 65 years old and older hit 29%. Combined, that’s nearly five times as many voters 45+ than 18-29.
Still, Mr. Sanders is winning the battle against Mr. Biden with that group.
The former vice president’s support with voters 29 and under was at 3% in the Iowa caucuses, 4% in the New Hampshire primaries, and 10% in the Nevada caucuses, Teen Vogue reported. “Compare that to Sanders’s results with the same demographics in the same elections: 48% in Iowa, 47% in New Hampshire, and 65% in Nevada.”
That, too, is a thumping.
But the numbers aren’t that good. Over the weekend, National Public Radio wrote an article titled, “Bernie Sanders’ Call For Young Voters Isn’t Working Out The Way He Planned.”
“The revolution that Bernie Sanders is promising depends on a new wave of young voters showing up at the polls to propel his campaign,” NPR said. “But this week, the Vermont senator acknowledged that those voters, on which his success to some degree hinges, have not shown up in the way he’d hoped.”
“Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing young people in? The answer is no,” Mr. Sanders told reporters at a news conference at his Burlington, Vermont, headquarters. “I think that will change in the general election. But I will be honest with you, we have not done as well with bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.”
The news gets worse. John Della Volpe, the polling director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, told NPR “there is considerable evidence to suggest that the youth vote is flat or declining relative to the previous election cycles.”
But let’s not be too hard on young people. There’s 20% of the electorate that is hard left — which means they vote in primaries. And there’s 20% on the right. They vote, too. Another 20% are center left, with another 20% center right. They don’t always vote in primaries. Then there’s 20% who are center center — they’ll go either way, they just want a candidate who speaks to them.
And that last 20% is right where they should be — weighing the candidates, vote their conscience.
It’s a long way to Nov. 3. After a nap in their parents’ basement, maybe the youth vote will turn out to the polls then.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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