The 2008 presidential election made history among young voters. Rallies on college campuses paired with social media activism brought out one of the highest turnouts of 18 to 29-year-olds on election day—more than 22 million.
This year’s race, however, forecasts a completely different turnout. According to a poll from the PEW Research Center, 63 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds, known as millennials, definitely plan to vote this year; this is down from 72 percent in 2008.
The lack of enthusiasm compared to that in 2008 is reflective of both parties, according to PEW. Rob Altenburger, a senior English major at Stony Brook University, said that groups on campus have reached out to him to make sure he is registered to vote, but he has not really gotten involved in the election so far because he has been busy with school work. He did, however, watch a clip of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech.
“I watched the first 10 minutes and I found that he wasn’t really telling me anything,” Altenburger said. “For me, that kind of turned me off a bit because I wanted to know about what he was going to do, or his plans.”
During campaigns, it is easy to get caught up in the so-called ‘mud-slinging,’ where candidates and their Political Action Committees, known as Super PACs, produce advertisements focused on negative characteristics or actions of the opponent. This bombardment of negativity can also discourage people from wanting to learn more about the candidates and get involved.
The drop in voter enthusiasm also reflects a significant decrease in voter registration compared to 2008. According to the PEW Research Center, 50 percent of people under the age of 30 are sure they are registered to vote—the lowest number in the last 16 years.
Amanda Farnbach, a junior biology major at SBU, shows that not all polls are reflective of the majority. While Farnbach was eligible to vote in 2008, she did not register. Now, she and her friends feel compelled to get involved.
“From my group of friends, I see that they care a lot more or pay more attention to what’s going on politically,” she said.
A study by Generation Opportunity, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on 18 to 29-year-olds, reflected Farnbach’s views more closely. In a study released on Oct. 3, Generation Opportunity reported that 76 percent of millennials plan to vote this year.
Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, said the number of people who plan to vote has not changed, but their motivations for why they will choose a candidate has changed significantly. The top things that will determine millennials’ votes are the candidate’s record in office and stance on issues, according to their poll. These two determinants outweigh the candidates’ character and personality.
Conway said that the millennial generation is misunderstood by elected officials.
“There’s a narrative out there…that somehow young adults are self-absorbed, they’re only interested in their technology…they’re withdrawn,” he said. “But we 100 percent reject that. What we think these numbers represent is the intelligence of this generation.”
James Car, an undeclared freshman, is voting for the first time this year. He said each candidate’s “interpretations of what to do with student loans” is the most important factor in determining his vote.
So the enthusiasm is not as apparent for one candidate over another, but for reforming and fixing the nation’s problems.
“The passion that was felt in 2008 has become much more temperate and stronger and much more focused on how to actually get the country going in the direction that you had hoped would go in in 2008,” Conway said. “Your generation is much farther ahead than elected officials give you credit for.”
The amount of information consumed by the millennials pushes them to think in terms greater than party lines. According to Conway, the young vote will be determined this year by the facts and the future plans, not on the charisma and character of the candidates.