Today, party buses filled with shirtless male models will shuttle voters on the North Carolina State University campus to their polling places, the result of a Cosmopolitan magazine contest to get out the college vote.
At Cal State Fullerton, music, free food and a chance to soak student government types in dunk tanks will reward students who can produce an “I Voted” sticker. Online, apps galore will pre-digest the issues for young voters and offer step-by-step directions to the polls.
For the celebrity inclined, there’s a Rock the Vote serenade from rap star Lil Jon featuring “Girls” actor Lena Dunham, so that young people can groove in the voting booth to a special public service video version of “Turn Down For What.”
Yet, like Dunham and Lil Jon — who, as it turns out, actually didn’t vote the last time they had the chance in a midterm election — only about 1 in 4 voting-age Americans under 29 will cast a ballot, according to a Harvard poll released last week.
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That’s pretty much the same dismal youth turnout logged nationally in the last midterm. In California, the numbers are likely to be even more grim, according to Mindy Romero, director of UC Davis’ California Civic Engagement Project: Four years ago, only 18.5% of California’s eligible youth voted, she said. California Forward, a good-government group, tweeted Monday that just 3.7% of 18-to-24-year-old Californians voted in the June primary.
Elders have complained about apathy among the young for as long as there have been elders. But participation rates among young voters shouldn’t be this low. In California, turnout among the 18-24 cohort is lower than for any other age group, says Romero. Yet, more than any demographic, young adults are the ones who will live with the political decisions being made now, from climate change to crime to student loans.
Why don’t they vote? In surveys, the biggest reason they give is that they’re busy. And it is true that coming of age has never been easy. The paltry job market notwithstanding, late adolescence is a lot of work.
But young adults also are hard to reach. Their TV viewing habits are online, the better to duck campaign commercials. They move a lot. They don’t have land lines. And in California, cultural and demographic trends play a part, as children from immigrant and other families without a history of high political participation make up an increasing slice of the electorate.
Going forward, this situation at the very least has implications for the state of civics education. Meanwhile, Romero and other experts have a couple of suggestions for today.
“For most youths, their parents aren’t voting, and no one is encouraging them to participate,” Romero wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed on Sunday. So today, as low turnout is decried from one coast to the other, remind a kid to vote and then cast your ballot if you haven’t already.