Some youth voters decide to opt out of 2012 election

School of Communication
University of Miami

On a Saturday, while many students are at the beaches to enjoy South Florida’s beautiful fall weather, UM student Javier Figueroa heads to the St. Bede Chapel at the University of Miami to meet with others on campus for a workers’ rights campaign.

Figueroa holds a belief, faithfully to himself, that effective community organizing campaigns can lead to empowering individuals and thus build stronger communities.

This is a fact, however, that makes this politically and socially inclined individual unique: He chose not to vote in the 2012 November presidential election.

“It’s about serving your community, believing in justice and equality – those are ideals that are far bigger than any political inclination – and I feel the way to achieve this is by immersing yourself in struggles for justice and pushing people to view things more critically for people to get the changes they need in their life,” said Figueroa.

In contrast to the 96 percent of eligible young adults who voted, four percent of young adults didn’t quite make it to the polls on Election Day, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some young adults did not turn out due to technical reasons, or bureaucratic loopholes. For example, some may not have had time or transportation, while others may have thought they were registered, and found out later on that they actually were not.

However, a part of the four percent of young adults who didn’t vote includes those who chose not to out of their personal principles.

Antoine Romulus, a UM anthropology major, chose not to vote for presidential or senatorial positions, and instead took a unique route by writing 99 percent on his ballot, citing a lack of options in candidates as a main reason.

“The way we do politics in this country, elections in general, there are many flaws to them, and when I wrote the 99 percent I tried to send a message. It’s not at all logical for two parties to dominate and when you actually look at the policies of these two political parties, they aren’t really all that different,” Romulus said.

The “99 percent” that Romulus references to coincides with the Occupy movement. In the United States, the Occupy movement emerged when individuals all over the country came together in protest of the economic disparities that have become prevalent in the country.

Many occupiers argue that a “one percent,” or the top wealthiest in the country, have come to control the nation’s wealth, leaving the poor to become poorer, and the middle class to continue to shrink.

Some however attribute the growth of the Occupy movement, which is heavily led by young adults, as individuals feeling dissatisfaction with a system that is heavily dominated by two major political parties.  This reasoning has also heavily been linked to a reason why some young voters chose not to vote in this past election.

University of Miami Political Science Department Professor Christopher Mann, whose specialties include political behavior and U.S. elections, feels polarization in American politics has led some young adults who are usually in a process of developing their personal political ideologies, to feel they do not have a choice.

“People are in a stage of feeling out their political values and sort of reconciling them. But it’s also something that we see that’s part of a larger trend in American politics, which are fewer and fewer people identifying with the parties, and that’s particularly true among young voters,” Mann stated. “They’re not registering as Democrats or Republicans. Their allegiance to party is weaker than we see in previous generations, even at the same age, and that’s a frustration with the two parties. Their very polarized, their far apart, and each of them are much more consistent in their ideology.”

Though young adults have recently become a group that turns out more to the polls, in proportion to older voters, their turnout is small.

This reputation that is often given to young adult voters is a reason why many were surprised by the exceeding amount of young adults that came out in the 2008 election.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, a total of 98 percent of young adults who fell in the age bracket of 18 to 29 voted in November 2008 election. This number is a stark contrast to former years where young adult voter turnout was exceedingly low. In 2004, for example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 46.7 percent of 18 to 24 year olds voted.

The economy was a topic that heavily dominated the 2012 November election. Young adults, who often deal with issues of handling student loan debt while entering a sometimes grim job market, also have a major stake in the economic prosperity of the country.

Casey Klofstad, author of Civic Talk: Peers, Politics, and the Future of Democracy, spoke about how voters viewed each candidate’s ability to lead economically.

“For most people in this election, it was all about the economy. Many voters made their choice based on if they wanted to continue the Obama tax increases and spending cuts, or Romney’s proposal to cut taxes for the very rich,” Klofstad said.

Some, however, felt that neither candidate provided a concrete economic plan.

Kaitlin Tunney, a UM music student, felt that as a young adult she in fact did not have much of an option between each candidate’s  ability to lead economically. This feeling of a lack of options when it came down to economic policy is a reason why Tunney says she chose not to vote.

“Well, I didn’t vote because the economic problems of the country. I felt like Obama’s plan appealed to the majority of voters, even though I didn’t feel like it was a solution. I kind of got the sense that Romney wasn’t going to win because Romney’s economic plan didn’t appeal to the wide majority of voters and didn’t really propose a solution for the average American.”

Also central to a decision not to vote, is the belief held that a vote doesn’t actually have a significant impact. Some, who hold voting as a major civic duty, cite that though numerically one person’s vote may not make a difference, many individuals holding such an attitude can actually hurt a candidate’s chances of winning.

“Just as in the general population of the half of us who don’t vote, there is a sizable portion who thinks their vote doesn’t make a difference and they make the calculation to just sit out,” said Klofstad.

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