To Increase Youth Turnout, Make Voting Sexy

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To Increase Youth Turnout, Make Voting Sexy


Tara Sonenshine, NSN Advisory Board
November 13, 2015 | THE HILL

With a year left before a presidential election, America has a major challenge ahead: getting its young citizens to exercise, not just in the gym, but in the voting booth.

We need teens and 20-somethings, and the entire under-35 generation, to get motivated and engaged in choosing the direction of this nation. In 2014, just under 37 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote, the lowest level of voter turnout seen in a midterm election since World War II. Of all demographics, the greatest drop-off in voting from a presidential year to a midterm is among young voters under 40. The share of the electorate composed of voters under 40 fell 10 percentage points from 36 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014.

Young people were motivated during the election of Barack Obama and the number of young voters did rise, with 52 percent turnout. But many young people didn’t feel involved after the election, and interest in politics trailed off. The rate of voters younger than 30 who could say with certainty that they were registered to vote fell steadily after 2008, according to the Pew Research Center By 2012, it hit 50 percent: the lowest number Pew has recorded going back as far as 1996.

Ironically, the country, seven years later, is growing younger, as is the world. Millennials — 18- to 34-year-olds — will hit 75.3 million this year, according to the Census Bureau. But only half of them are likely to vote. How can we have such a large demographic — projected to surpass the outsized Baby Boomer generation this year as the nation’s largest living generation — not participate in choosing leaders?…Perhaps we can connect voting to driving with a message that driving is fun and liberating — but so is deciding your country’s future. Leaders make laws that affect your right to choose, your future pay, the minimum wage, climate change, war and peace, and every issue that you can think of. If you want laws that are friendly to your concerns, you have to select the leaders who make those laws and carry out American policies. You have to “drive” your country.

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which swept away a host of practices that barred or discouraged many from the polls. In its wake, nonpartisan voter registration drives have been organized across the nation by engaged nonprofits, civic community groups and others. While these actions have propelled our nation forward, the work of building democracy is never truly done. And if young people don’t vote, it sends a negative message about America both at home and abroad.

Let’s make voting sexy. We have 12 months to get these young people tuned in, turned on and out to the polls.


Two ballot boxes at the US Embassy in Tokyo’s 2012 Election Day Event. [US Dept of State East Asia and Pacific Media Hub, accessed 11/13/15]

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