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'Virgin voter': This election isn't about us

  • Noah Gray is the founder of The Virgin Voting Project
  • He says this year, first-time voters don't care about the presidential race
  • Gray: 'I feel disengaged; the candidates don’t cater to us, and the campaign dollars aren’t spent on us'
'Virgin voter': This election isn't about us
Noah Gray

Editor’s note: Noah Gray is a junior at American University and the founder of The Virgin Voting Project.

It's hard to get young people to care about politics and voting. Trust me, I know -- I’ve been trying to do it since I was too young to vote.

Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama did a good job of it in 2008, but we are not seeing as much enthusiasm for either candidate this time around. The commonly asked question for 2012 is will young people show up to the polls in as strong numbers as they did in 2008? The realistic answer is no. 

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 58% of young people ages 18-29 say they are definitely going to vote in the 2012 election. That’s 20 points below the national average of 78%, and significantly below my generation's voting intentions from 2004 and 2008.

Young people have voted in lower numbers since we won the right to vote in 1971, but is it really our fault? Not entirely. Yes, young people are known to be stereotypically apathetic when it comes to politics. But in my opinion, the main problem is that politics isn't about us. 

Barack Obama changed the conversation in 2008 and engaged young people by connecting with us directly, pioneering social media in politics, while campaigning on a resonant message of hope and change. We heard about issues we cared about: The war, making a college education more affordable, the environment. We heard from someone who was going to involve our generation more. Millenials were invigorated, and we turned out to the polls in record numbers.

Now, many of the young people who voted in 2008 are struggling to pay back college loans and facing the stark reality of moving back in with their parents due to lack of job prospects. And the new crop of the eight million 18 to 21-year-old potential "virgin voters" doesn’t have the allure of the “hope and change” message reeling them in.

This election season hasn’t been much about issues; it’s been more about party politics. We’ve seen a fierce GOP primary and dozens of debates where candidates have neglected to offer real solutions to the problems young people face everyday. We’re fed up with the political bickering and turned off by the attack ads. 

My generation feels disengaged; I feel disengaged. The news media doesn’t cater to us, the candidates don’t cater to us, and the campaign dollars aren’t spent on us. Hollywood targets my generation; Washington does not. 

This election is the first presidential election in which I am eligible to vote; and to be honest, even I have been thinking of not voting. But my better judgment will not allow me to succumb to my frustration.

There’s a circle of organizations in this country that are staffed with hopeful and passionate millennials who work tirelessly to fulfill their nonprofits’ missions of getting young people involved in our political process. They do a great job, and working alongside many of them in developing plans to increase youth voter turnout has been extremely rewarding. But it has also been eye-opening and sometimes discouraging. It has made me realize that no matter how hard we try, our generation will not show up in great numbers this election. 

The situation needs to change. We need to have debates that speak strictly about issues affecting the youth of America. We need to have news shows that cater to us and show us why we should care. My generation doesn’t know any better, so we need to be shown better.

Once we are engaged, I am confident that we will start to care more. But until this happens, I’m afraid we’re going to see a youth voter turnout of less than 50% in this year’s election.

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