by Judy Ferro
After the 2014 election, the New York Times published a lament declaring that voter turnout—at 36%–was the worst in 72 years.
No doubt 2016 will be different. Voters show up for presidential elections. Yes, there has been some drop since nearly 63% of the voters showed up for the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960, but turnout did reach 57% in 2008 and nearly 55% in 2012.
Negative campaigning may explain the difference. A 1995 study by Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Ivengar indicated that attacks discourage many potential supporters. Mostly independents and Democrats, however. Republicans, they concluded, vote Republican no matter what.
No surprise then that Republicans in Congress spent millions of taxpayer dollars investigating Benghazi and Clinton e-mails. No illegal acts found. No charges filed. Yet, Clinton is scarred.
And young voters may be the most affected. In 2015 Ada County released a chart on Idaho voters showing that those aged 20-29 are the largest group of voting age, but only 13.4% show up at the polls. (In contrast, nearly 73% of Idahoans aged 70-79 vote.)
Low turnout among young voters hurts Democrats. In 2004, 54% of voters 18-29 voted for John Kerry; in 2008, 66% voted for Barrack Obama. Democrats need young voters.
A lot of reasons why more young people don’t vote have been suggested: they move more; they are focused on family and career; they don’t feel informed; they haven’t discovered how much of their life government influences.
Bernie Sanders’ success at drawing thousands of new voters to primaries and caucuses, however, suggests another reason: no one has been saying what young Americans want to hear.
NextGen Climate recently polled young voters in 11 swing states on the issues they cared about. Their answers read like the progressive platform. Over 70% supported making health care affordable and accessible, getting the economy to work for the middle class, protecting families’ health with clean air and water, making college affordable, implementing common sense gun safety rules, and moving the country from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Will these voters turn out for Hillary Clinton? The NextGen findings indicated that 43% of youthful likely voters support Clinton and 19% support Trump. That leaves 38% supporting neither.
The big surprise, though, is that most of that number claimed to see no difference between Clinton’s and Trump’s positions. Over 40% regarded the candidates’ stands on health care, affordable college, clean energy, and clean air and water as identical.
The poll didn’t ask voters how they felt about Benghazi or the Clinton e-mails; maybe they are a reason more young people don’t support Clinton. But they do seem hyper aware of her differences with Sanders. Clinton isn’t in favor of a single-payer health system so young people conclude she doesn’t support health care. She doesn’t want to end fracking so they doubt she is in favor of clean energy. She doesn’t favor free community college so she doesn’t support making education accessible.
Young people think in terms of all or nothing. Clinton, however, supports compromises she believes she could get through a reasonable Congress. Understanding such positions requires awareness–and acceptance–of detail and nuance.
Maybe more older people vote because we’ve accepted we’re never going to get perfect candidates. We’re used to choosing the best of what’s offered.