Youth vote holds sway over election results



Students vote at the ward four, precinct four location on Tuesday in Maple Hall. Wayne Casperson, supervisor at ward four’s precinct four said that 125 people had voted by 9:50 a.m. Photo: Rashah McChesney/Iowa State Daily

Lissandra Villa

As Election Day creeps closer and closer, the nation’s younger citizens have the chance to establish a habit that could stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This habit is voting.

“If you develop that habit when you’re first eligible to vote … that’s something that’s going to carry through as you move on,” said Dave Peterson, professor of political science at Iowa State. “Once you vote, you sort of identify yourself as a voter. You think that’s who you are. And you sort of develop a mental self expectation that next time around, you’re going to vote again.”

Peterson also said that as history has shown, younger voters have not participated in voting as much as their older counterparts. This is due partially to how much college students move, resulting in a lack of time to build voting habits and confusion about registration.

However, the trend may be changing.

“Starting in 2000, the rate of the youth turnout has only gone up,” said Caitlyn Maguire, marketing manager for Rock the Vote, a group that helps build awareness in younger voters. This higher turnout rates could be due to accessibility of voting for students, she said.

“There seems to be much more of an effort to make it easier for students to vote on campus,” Peterson said. “One of the nice things about this state and this community is it is pretty aggressive at getting students to vote.”

The importance of the youth demographic has not been lost for the 2012 presidential candidates.

As examples: Obama has made a point of stopping to speak at college campuses while campaigning. And Romney purchased a promotional hashtag on Twitter the day of the final presidential debate.

“It’s clear that [Obama] is doing a lot [to target young voters],” Peterson said. “Young voters are, on social issues in particular, more liberal. Those attitudes are going to lead you to vote for Barack Obama more than Mitt Romney. …  [Romney] is reaching out a little bit differently.”

Due to the Internet becoming such a key communication tool, candidates no longer purchase just TV time but also use other social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to campaign as well.

In addition to finding more effective means to communicate with younger voters, candidates have also sought out issues that matter to them.

“The candidates are really doing their research to see what matters to young people,” Maguire said. “Both candidates opened their campaigns talking about student loans … [and] both candidates are putting forward plans for how to create more jobs. … They acknowledge that these young people are either just out of college, or they’re about to be out of college, and they’re nervous that they don’t have a job.”

This makes voting especially critical for young voters who are college students.

“I voted based on what’s good for my future and benefits that I will have in the next four years,” said Renae Meines, freshman in pre-graphic design. “Voting meant that I could be a part of determining the future.”

Meines’ logic falls in step with what Maguire said Rock the Vote tries to encourage voters to do, which is to vote with the future in mind.

The fact that students are casting their ballot in Iowa is something to bear in mind as well.

“We are a really, really close state [politically], which means that the vote … in Iowa has a nontrivial chance of deciding the election,” Peterson said. “We elect both parties relatively equally, and that puts us right in the middle. … This year, more than most years, what happens on this campus and how well students turn out and who they turn out voting for could have a greater influence than they have in the past.”

In a state that has made a point of having less restrictive voter ID rules and a brief voter registration process, young voters have been given the opportunity to build a habit that could stay with them the entirety of their lives.

“Whether or not you voice your opinion, or you inform yourself in what the government’s doing, the government’s going to move forward anyway, with or without you,” Maguire said. “They’re going to still create legislation that affects your life, with or without you.”