Young Non-Voters Asking: Why Bother?
This story was reported for the “Why Bother” series in collaboration with KLRU and The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. Find more at whybothertexas.org
Today is exactly five weeks from Election Day. In 2008, young voters out headed to the polls in numbers not seen since the ’70s. Almost half voted. But that has not been the norm. Our continuing series on the causes and solutions to low voter turnout looks into whether young people feel inspired to return to the polls this November.
You might say John King isn’t your typical voter under 30. Because the 27-year-old graduate student says he’s voted every chance he got. He couldn’t wait to turn 18.
“I’ll vote on anything, whether it’s municipal election or whatever it is,” King said. “I’ll go to the public library and I’ll vote because I feel like that’s my opportunity to get my voice heard.”
Traditionally only about a third of young people vote. Political experts would love to know why. Deciphering the motivations of that demographic could easily sway an election one way or another, particularly in Texas, with one of the youngest populations in the country. Only Utah has a larger proportion of young people.
So why do so few young Americans vote? With 46 million young people able to vote this election, there could be as many reasons. Consider these Austinites.
“We just have a lot in our minds,” said Jennifer Kaminsky, 19. “It’s just a matter of working it into our schedules.”
“A lot of young people don’t vote for the simple fact they feel like their vote ain’t going to count anyway,” said Skeet Carter, 28.
“Young people don’t vote because they don’t give a shit,” said Brittany Reed, 19. “I don’t even care who’s the president; I don’t. As long as I live in my house.”
“I’m not voting as kind of a sign of protest,” said Paul Dumond, 21. “No matter which candidate I actually end up voting for, it’s going to be the same outcome, more or less. By not voting, I think I’m saying a lot more than by picking a side.”
“I don’t want to vote because I don’t know who to vote for exactly and I don’t know enough to feel like I’m responsible to do that to everyone else in the world, so that’s pretty much it,” said Stephanie Steiner, 18.
John King, the man who says he’ll vote on anything, says many of his acquaintances are turned off by politics . King is on the board of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce, a group of well-off, well-educated adults 35 and younger. King usually has 100-200 members turn out for chamber events every month, but a recent political mixer barely registered.
“We had some state representatives and some City Council members come out,” King said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t as well attended as we would’ve liked. I think we had four or five of our members for every elected official out.”
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has monitored elections in Travis County for 25 years.
“It has to do with how well each voter is connected to their local community,” DeBeauvoir said. “For example, do you own a house? That’s a point. Do you have children in school? That’s a point. All of those add up. And it turns out that people that have the most points of connection with their community are the people who vote. And that’s roughly all about how old you are. It takes a while to get connected.”
A contributing factor is the recession and historically low employment for young adults. 2010 Census numbers show they are postponing marriage, childbearing and home ownership.
And are more in debt than ever before. Twenty-four percent of the nation’s voting-age population is under 30. Activists say that if more young people voted, elected officials might start paying more attention to the issues that matter to this generation.
Tonight at 7 KUT co-hosts a special event: “Why Bother: Voices of a New Generation,” a public dialogue among young Texans about the causes of low civic participation in Central Texas and how to boost it. You can find details and more information about the series on the Why Bother Texas website.