When President Barak Obama visits three college campuses this week to stir up support from young adults, he may be talking to deaf ears.
Statistically, this key component of his 2008 election strategy, voters age 18-24, is vastly underrepresented in elections. In other words, they don’t vote.
According to the U.S. Census, that age group accounts for 12.5 percent of the voter-eligible population, yet their votes represented only 9.5 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 presidential election.
The reason for the gap: only 58.5 percent of college age U.S. citizens were registered to vote in 2008.
“The best word to describe young voters is ‘disengagement.’ They’re not following the process, not taking the necessary steps to get ready to vote,” said Dr. Matthew Price, professor of political science at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. In 2008, according to exit polls, the main issue among young voters was the economy. With student loan debt reaching $1 trillion and half of recent graduates being either unemployed or underemployed, this year looks to be no different.
“Young people don’t think about voting because it’s not important to them yet,” said Jonathan Mares, a 21-year-old senior at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
The current job market is what will drive him to the polls in November, Mares said.
In contrast, voters age 65 and older made up 19.5 percent of the ballots cast in 2008 despite accounting for 9.4 percent of the electorate.
Older voters such as Baby Boomers have stake in Medicare and Social Security, which in turn creates numbers in the election. Politicians won’t touch the issue of dwindling Social Security funds because the older generation turns out on Election Day, Price said.
“Because young people don’t vote in high numbers compared to the elderly, a lot of their political interests are being overlooked. Just out of sheer self interest, young people should be voting,” Price said.
On-campus campaigns work to register young voters and get the word out about crucial issues, but they are catering to a group that tends to vote more often already. Education level is directly proportional to the likelihood of a person to vote.
According to the Census, voters with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 34 percent of ballots in 2008, compared to the 27.3 percent with only a high school diploma. Those who did not pursue education past high school accounted for 8.6 million more eligible voters than those with higher education degrees.
“Political efficacy, which is the feeling of ‘I can make a difference,’ comes with higher levels of education,” Price said.
Between 2004 and 2008, young voters were the only age group to show an increase in turnout.
“Sometimes there is a wave excitement for a certain candidate among young people. Obama did very well last time and it will be interesting to see how he does again,” Price said.
Some political experts wonder if Obama’s youth base has lost its enthusiasm. According to the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of voters under the age of 30 voted for Obama, which explains his current attempt to reinvigorate the group needed to help win his reelection.