The Youth Vote in 2012: Sacrificing Substance for Straight Talk

apco-election-coverageJadzia Butler is a junior associate in our Washington, D.C., office and will be following the dynamics of the youth vote during the 2012 election cycle.

Four years ago, I signed, sealed and delivered my first ballot for president of the United States. I was studying abroad in France that year, and even from 3,000 miles away, I felt the pull of change we can believe in. I was not alone, as millions of my generation’s first-time voters also marked ballots and pulled levers on behalf of a junior senator from Illinois whose message of hope resonated so strongly with us.

Fast forward to today, and the sentiment among my generation is completely different. Now, instead of a tall, handsome, young man with a unique name, humble beginnings and a resounding message of hope and change, many young people are looking to a scrawny, white-haired man with an agitated message of libertarian isolationism – and gave him almost 50 percent of their votes in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. 

Why such a drastic change in political worship throughout young America? While many analysts attribute it simply to the latter’s promise to legalize marijuana, many in my age cohort attribute it to a deeper, more fundamental frustration with the superficial rhetoric, political pandering and pointless blame games that dominate our political airwaves. Of course, it’s always nice when a candidate says he would like to give a job to every new graduate and help make student loan repayments a snap, but this year’s candidates will find that failure to demonstrate a clear understanding of how to actually accomplish those things will keep the then 18-29-year-olds who came out to vote four years ago home this year. 

True, modern political campaigns have always been about flashing lights, excessive flag-waving and unattainable promises. What makes this election year different for many young voters is that the past four years have been marred by extraordinarily stubborn political gridlock that has made a total farce of our political system – reducing their “Yes We Can!” attitude to “Well, we probably can’t.” They are frustrated by Washington and dismayed by the very real possibility that they were wrong for believing Barack Obama could change it.  

For young voters this time around, the candidate of choice won’t be the one who simply pledges to jump-start the economy and restore American greatness on the world’s stage. It won’t be the one who proves to be the most God-fearing proud American with the largest flag lapel or the most inspiring message, either. It will be the one who speaks candidly about his well-thought-out, well-researched ideas; regardless of whether or not they actually endorse his stance on the issues. 

It’s important to remember that many young people don’t understand what libertarianism is; they even disagree with a lot of things Ron Paul says. In fact, many would agree that Paul’s actual ideas, many of which are unworkable and even abhorrent, aren’t what won them over as they went to the polls. It was his reputation as a “straight-talker,” his ability to demonstrate a rationale behind his beliefs, and his speeches filled with details of what exactly he plans to do as president. 

Unfortunately, these young voters who throw their support behind a candidate who rejects the stereotypical “flash” of politics are no better than those who stand firmly behind ideological lines and support a candidate based solely on his or her ability to make their heart skip a beat. In the end, both are guilty of neglecting substance to the detriment of our political system and of our country – which is why change may not be coming to America any time soon.

Posted on January 23, 2012 By
Categories  U.S. Elections and tagged , , , ,
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