Much to the surprise of pollsters, pundits and politicians alike—many of whom claimed young people had soured on President Obama and were the least likely to vote in this election—half of America’s youth voted in the presidential election, at about the same rates as they did in 2008. In fact, young voters made up a larger percentage of the electorate than they did even then (19 percent compared to 18 percent) and again, they overwhelmingly supported President Obama—specifically, 60 percent did. To be sure, this demographic delivered the decisive votes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida.
With 1,350 students voter in Ward 1 alone, Yale was no different. According to Yale College Democrats President Zak Newman, JE ’14, the 2012 election drew a larger turnout than did the 2008 election.
Only in the 1972 election—the first election to enfranchise 18 year olds—has participation among voters ages 18-29 been higher. (That year, 55 percent of young people headed to the polls.) In 1996, forever an example of American youth apathy, only 39 percent of young people voted.
Our differences from past generations aren’t limited to our civic engagement. We’re the first generation to grow up with the Internet, an entirely global economy, and all of our friends in our pockets. We’re always multitasking—busy documenting our every move. Amid all of this, we gave up our routine and went to the polls; for some reason, we voted.
Voting isn’t something to be proud of—that misses the point—and it’s not charitable or selfless really. It’s our responsibility and our privilege. I see our impressive turnout not as an achievement, but as evidence of our generation’s new standard for civic engagement. This election and our participation in it indicate that, above all else, we represent a departure from past generations.
To make the claim that we are fundamentally different from our predecessors would have been premature in 2008. We had only showed up once—our sample size wasn’t big enough. Four years ago, you could have called it a fluke. Now, our sustained engagement has shown that we’re different.
The unique experience of our generation has shaped our prioities, showing us the importance of civic engagement. In school, we were the first generation to be taught about global warming. The Internet hasn’t just made us impatient and self-obsessed—its wealth of information has also given us an eye for bullshit and an abhorrence for inaction. While our parents grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, we grew up without the twin shadows of the World Trade Center. We’ve been told over and over that America is in decline.
Above all, we’re different because we don’t have the luxury of time. The problems we face—an environment heading toward disaster, a national debt larger than it has ever been, and a broken education system, to name a few—are not the problems of the ‘60s or the ‘90s. We can’t leave a mess for our kids to clean up because it’ll be too late. So last Tuesday, we seized an opportunity to make our mark: we voted for the legalization of gay marriage in Maine and Maryland, and the legalization of marijuana in Colorado; we chose a president who supports equal pay for women, marriage equality, reproductive rights, immigration reform, and a fair tax code.
To us, these things are a matter of common sense. On Tuesday, we showed that we welcome our responsibility to meet these challenges and recognize that government must play a central role in our efforts if they are to succeed.
While we need not seek approval from older people, maybe if we stop tweeting about our bowel movements they’ll finally catch on and stop underestimating us. That, however, is a long shot.