I came of age to vote back in the 80’s. Before the Internet. I just wanted to add that in case any of you younger readers are with me today. There was life before Google and Internet and smartphones. True story.
Anyways, I turned 18 a mere few months before the 1988 election. I did not only not care about politics and elections; I really knew nothing about anything that would remotely qualify me to vote. Sure I registered to vote, under the party affiliation of my parents because that is all I knew. The name of the party.
The only way back then to know about policy, election platforms and government in general was to watch the evening news, or read the paper, both of which I found dry and uninteresting. Being young I had more than a little belief that it was all spun anyways. I took a government and economics class but didn’t pay more attention than I needed to graduate.
This attitude of disinterest, of wondering why to even bother, as my vote and my opinion don’t really count, the attitude politics was for old people to figure out, leave it to them, was actually fairly prevalent among the young adult voters. Not only in the time I became old enough to vote, but pretty much up until the 2008 elections, with the exception of one year, 1972
The first year 18-year olds were allowed to cast a ballot for President was 1972 so it goes to follow there was an over 50% turn out, but in years following it declined dramatically, hitting 39% in 1988 and an all-time low of 35% in 1996. To give you a little perspective on how low these numbers are, in 1996 the percentage of voters ages 30 and up who cast a ballot was well over 60%.
In 2008 the estimated turnout of voters ages 18-24 was 54.5%, coming very close to topping the all time high from 1972 and surprisingly remained steady for the 2012 elections. So why the sudden change? How did young voters go from the I don’t care attitude, my vote doesn’t count to suddenly being a major demographic group to vie for in an election.
The Internet, at least in part, contributed greatly to this surge.
Yes it has been around since the mid 90’s but in it’s infancy the full potential of the government to reach young voters, or really anyone, was not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye.
Now, it is one of the singular most popular ways our youth get information about the government, politicians, how their voice counts and has empowered them to speak out and be heard as a real force in the politics of America.
While the government was not necessarily the profound presence on the Internet in 2007 and 2008 either it is today, politicians, for example President Barack Obama had enough forethought to capitalize on the growth in social media popularity to reach the young voters.
Obama was able to effectively utilize social media to get through to voters, using Facebook and Twitter for his platform. Whether he actually targeted the younger voters specifically or just by default of the average age user, he successfully appealed to the younger voter by showing a human, hip and youthful side. And the youth vote pretty much sealed the election for Obama with over 60% casting their vote his way. Romney also used the Internet but was posting only 25% of the Obama campaign and was just not able to bring around the youth vote.
Not all of these were actually aware of what exactly or who they were voting for but the good thing here is they voted, after a steady decline in youth vote since 1972.
Not only are they voting but the younger voters, under 30 are realizing that this government is accessible, and transparent, at least much more so than in previous times, and they see they have a voice and can make a difference. They are becoming more active politically and more outspoken on social media, quick to give feedback on political posts as they are on anything else.
They see their input being regarded almost immediately and instant feedback brings more involvement. The Internet, and the Gov 2.0 directive have politically empowered the younger voters, creating a future of a government not only for the people but even more involvement by the people.