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Young voters in 2012: Is it all about jobs?

As candidates gear up for the 2012 elections, countles articles have been written predicting how Obama’s young supporters in the 2008 election will vote now.  An article in the Huffington Post, “Can Obama Keep The Youth Vote Amid A Bleak Job Market?” investigates this question.

It’s not breaking news that recent graduates are struggling to find jobs. With large student loan debts and an increasingly competitive applicant pool, young people are taking any job they can get, many of which do not even require a college degree. Dim job outlooks have created a general lack of optimism among the youth population.

How will this affect to the upcoming election? Young voters are a large constituency to target, and, “According to US census data, 61 percent of millennials will have reached voting age—meaning that one out of every four potential voters, or 24 percent of the electorate, will have been born after 1980.” Obama’s messages of hope and change inspired young people in 2008 to care about the election. The 2012 campaign will take something equally or even more inspiring to get young people to the polls, and many predict this campaign will come down to one issue–jobs.

Although each person has a selfish interest to secure a job for themselves, now more than ever young people are thinking bigger. With the wealth of information available through technology, millennials are thinking about global development, environmental sustainability and where the US stands on the global stage. I think addressing jobs and the US economic situation are necessary, but engaging young people on topics they are passionate about as well will bring them out to vote.

How do you think the presidential candidates will engage youth in the upcoming campaigns? What issues are most important to you?

About Kait Maloney

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  1. Karen Showalter

    Great points Kait. I’ll add that young people also see the interconnectedness of global challenges, and recognize the broader financial crisis as a truly global problem. As the most global generation yet, we get that the crisis is also impacting people’s ability to buy food worldwide.

  2. Great post, Kait. I’m in complete agreement: I think to characterize young adults as focused first and foremost on jobs in the upcoming election is a mistake. Now, I’m not contesting the notion that ultimately, Americans prioritize jobs and the economy over other issues when it comes to voting. I think there is a great body of historical evidence to support that conclusion. But I also think that clumping 18-24 year olds into that generalization is dangerous for a few reasons. First, 2008 marked the first time in a long, long time that our demographic turned out at such a large, influential scale, the data that we have from elections prior might not accurately describe the priorities and behaviors of our generation. In a way, I think we are a question mark for researchers, the press, and politicians alike. That is not to say that the impossible job market won’t factor in to many, many young votes. But I think that a lot of Obama’s domestic policy has been incredibly favorable to our generation. Health care reform means we can stay on our parent’s health plans until we’re 26. Heightened consumer protection means that it’s harder for credit card companies to prey on financially inexperienced young adults. Obama signed legislation last year overhauled the student loan program by expanding Pell grants, capping interest payments, and pouring money into community colleges. And just last week the Administration issued a series of regulations aimed at cracking down on for-profit colleges and other career training programs that leave students saddled with unmanageable debts. I personally hope that young people will remember to have a more holistic vision when it comes to evaluating the Obama administration and how it has sought to represent our interests.
    One final note: when I first started attending Duke in 2008, we were at the very beginnings of the recession. Suddenly, tons of students who had long planned on going into finance and investment banking were forced down different career paths. And they were not alone. The recession and its impact on the job market have undone countless best-laid-plans. Yet even as I see my peers struggle to find jobs, I also see them venturing into unknown territory–whether that means doing TFA, joining the peace corps, traveling to Cairo to do a year-long Arabic fellowship, or starting their own Sushi restaurant. I think that as scary and tough as the economy has made life after graduation, it has also forced us to reevaluate our goals and ambitions and, perhaps, to realize how much we can use our talents, skills, and education to help others.
    I very well may be unemployed next summer, but that won’t be changing how I would normally vote in this upcoming election. I would venture that there are a lot of other young people who, regardless of which party they identify with, are in the same boat.