What made the 2008 election exceptional: Gen Y

November 2, 2008

So for the many political junkies like myself, we’ve been following the 2008 election since November 5, 2004. And more often than not, we care more about the horserace than the outcome. The race has been littered with firsts and shattered all kinds of previously unsurmounted barriers. But no matter who wins, one thing is for sure: this election was exceptional in no small part because of our generation.

The amount of interest I’ve seen from my fellow college students in this election has been phenomenal. People –particularly young people –are paying attention more than they ever have before. Maybe it’s the disappointments of the last few years and the abysmally low approval ratings of both the Republican White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress; maybe it’s the flagging economy and the realization that we can’t pretend it doesn’t affect us, with our student loans and credit card debt and jobhunting and an economy in the toilet. Finally, everyone is paying attention. Finally, people are contributing, volunteering, and hopefully voting more than ever! Though the last eight years haven’t given us much, perhaps they have given us one thing: a sense of responsibility to contribute and participate in the system.

Ever since I wrote that first term paper on voter turnout in high school, studying voter turnout levels has always made me kind of cynical about young people’s involvement in politics. And I’ve certainly been guilty of getting frustrated with my friends for not caring about elections and politics when it affects their everyday lives so much. It’s always been that vicious cycle — young people don’t vote because politicians don’t listen, and politicians don’t listen because young people don’t vote.

But this year, I think the cycle has broken. Or at least, it’s been cracked. Young people are starting to take ownership over the system and politicians are starting to care, and it’s a really cool phenomenon to see. 316,534 Facebook users are currently signed up for the Facebook Election Rally and are changing their Facebook statuses to remind their friends to vote. There’s been a surge in under-30 voter registrations. Remember the CNN/YouTube debates, where everyone and their best friend was submitting video questions and actually got to ask their questions to the candidates? And Students For Barack Obama got started as a Facebook group and grew so tremendously that the Obama campaign did the unthinkable and LISTENED, and offered to let SFBO become the official student branch of the Obama campaign.

Youth voter turnout alreay tripled in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Rock the Vote estimates 87% of young people plan to vote — an unprecedented number. Some are calling it a “youthquake.”

In 2004, I worked on a voter turnout campaign that focused on youth voter turnout, and my friends and I would always talk about how if only young people could actually all get out and vote, they could easily swing the election (voters under 30 are 25% of the registered electorate). It didn’t quite happen that year, but we were on to something, maybe just four years too early. This year, the youth vote is definitely going to swing the election; it is already visible how much more college and even high school kids are suddenly paying attention to politics.

To me, that’s the most exciting thing; more than having my candidate win on Tuesday, I’ll be satisfied if the Wednesday headlines are screaming about the record youth turnout, and the old political establishments are astonished at how the youth came out to vote in unprecedented numbers and changed the face of the electorate.

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