Should young voters even care about midterm elections?

August 19th 2014

Matthew Segal

News and entertainment media perpetually emphasize the importance (and relative sexiness) of showing up to vote in Presidential elections. Celebrities boldly promote the power of the youth vote, while corporations proudly market their pro-Americana merchandise and message of non-partisan voter registration. Small independent retailers even sell millions of dollars of political apparel so you can proudly wear your party's slogan de jour. 

But this Presidential hype often comes at the expense of the Midterm elections. So far in 2014, there have been very few celebrities to mention anything about voting, let alone participate in political affairs, compared to throngs of Hollywood stars in 2012 and 2008. As a result, we tend to possess unrealistic expectations of the President to solve our nation's toughest problems, despite his relative inability to operate without the consent or backing of Congress. 

Look no further than 2010. Turnout declined for all Americans, but it was most acute among young people. In 2008, 51 percent of young voters age 18-29 showed up, while in 2010 it was 24 percent. As a result, the Republicans, who generally find more support with older voters, took control of the House, and the 113th Congress has seen unprecedented gridlock, deemed the "least productive in history." 

Congress Office Space Bob's What Would You Say You Do Around Here Meme

Far more people vote in Presidential years. In the 2012 elections, an average of 271,000 people voted in each Congressional District. In 2008, an average of 269,000 people voted in each Congressional District. Meanwhile, in the 2010 midterms, only 192,000 people voted per Congressional District. Your vote effectively counts more in non-Presidential elections -- and far more in primary and off-year elections.

And yet without a last-minute uptick in peer pressure, the prospects for 2014 are not great.  According to recent data from Harstad Strategic Research, Inc and the Youth Engagement Fund, only 28 percent of millennials claim they will "definitely vote" in 2014, which is slightly higher than an earlier poll from Harvard, in which 23 percent said the same. For sake of comparison, the same Harvard researchers reported in 2010 that a slightly higher 31% of 18-29 year-olds were "definitely voting" in that year's midterms.

The likely result? More presumptive gridlock, which is ironic because gridlock is what millennials bemoan the most. According to the Harvard IOP, nearly half (47 percent) of young Americans agree that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.” A damning testament to the erosion of faith in legislative progress, to say the least. 

The key to reversing the culture of gridlock however? Showing up this November. Here's to making more noise about it... 

What if the youth vote really does make a difference in elections?