Thursday, February 22, 2018
Perspective

It turns out, the youth vote turned out again

Despite the signals in my own reporting for PBS as well as in scientific surveys that the decisive 18- to 29-year-old bloc would not turn out enthusiastically this November, nearly two dozen million twentysomethings were galvanized anew in 2012.

In Florida and across battleground America — the other hotly contested swing-states like Ohio and Virginia — both overall youth turnout and its margin favoring President Barack Obama grew stronger. While the national margin of victory for the Democratic ticket slightly declined among young Americans under 30, their share within the electorate increased by one whole percentage point.

Thus, once all the votes are counted, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, it is entirely possible that more young voters actually went to the polls in 2012 than in 2008. In an increasingly vulnerable economy for Millennials, it is surprising, on the one hand, that more young Americans did not choose an alternative to the politics as usual of incumbency.

But thanks to the rapidly changing demography and political values of the nation, more of the same looked like former Gov. Mitt Romney — not Obama — to the vast majority of young voters. Over the 2008 campaign, the culminating backlash against eight years of war and economic decline, many college students and recent graduates entrusted an eloquent ascending political savior with their votes.

The margin by which they favored Obama over his opponent Sen. John McCain broke the record for any presidential candidate. In his bid for re-election, skeptics believed that the Obama team couldn't come close to repeating his 2008 youth performance. But this November, young voters doubled-down on President Obama, ensuring that neither a progressive administration nor their activism could be diminished as one-and-done failed efforts.

Their mission in 2008 was inspired partially by a desire to transcend racial inequality. At the forefront, Obama looked beyond America's divided red and blue states, the message he championed in his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, and younger Americans sought to remake the country's political landscape as forever more inclusive.

Now younger Americans made another profound and yet broader unifying generational statement: Young people favor social, economic and political equity, and they found that source of uplift in Obama's message. On Election Night, as the results poured in from Florida and the cadre of battlegrounds, the outcome hinged upon the conviction of an economically strapped generation that Obama is behind them.

The administration's pledge of continued investment in Pell Grants and higher education seems to have connected with the widest possible swath of students. And the president's appeal reached across the key micro-demographics among younger Americans — Latinos and women — all rooted in his "Forward" message of fairness. To single women, he is a faithful guardian of equal pay and reproductive care. To Latino families, he is a compassionate advocate of their path to citizenship and economic livelihood.

Now term limits have the potential to intrude on the growth of youth engagement because the man who has captured the hearts and minds of Gen Y is barred from running for the presidency again. While young people continue to believe Obama is the vehicle for change, his supporters will have to contemplate how they will employ their political energies to realize reform beyond his re-election.

Young people's vision for politics is deeply embedded in their aspiration for socially-conscious unity governance, which they view as an incomplete mission of a president who pledged an end to the bitterly divisive politics that have continued since his election.

During one of my last campus stops for PBS, a student told me he is "ready for the election to be over." Finally, the contest has come to a close. Young Americans now get the chance to cement the foundation of a sustained grassroots movement that transcends consecutive presidential campaigns. So how far "Forward" will they go?

Alexander Heffner is a special correspondent for PBS's "Need to Know" covering the campaign's college vote. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
PolitiFact: Donald Trump falsely says he never denied Russian meddling

PolitiFact: Donald Trump falsely says he never denied Russian meddling

The indictments of 13 Russians detailing how they used Facebook and Twitter to undercut Hillary Clinton and promote President Donald Trump spurred a flurry of tweets from Trump over the Presidents Day weekend."I never said Russia did not meddle in th...
Published: 02/22/18
PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trumpís exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

PolitiFact: The facts behind Donald Trumpís exaggerations on immigration, MS-13 and crime

President Donald Trump has linked illegal immigration to the violence of the MS-13 gang, claiming "open borders" have caused the deaths of many people in the United States.During his State of the Union speech, Trump highlighted the 2016 killings of t...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: Diplomacy, not fire and fury

Perspective: Diplomacy, not fire and fury

President Donald Trump infamously used the expression "fire and fury" to threaten North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Then, at the United Nations, he vowed to "totally destroy North Korea." These words would be considered criminal if uttered by ordina...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: Trust the polls, not the pundits

Perspective: Trust the polls, not the pundits

Itís not easy being a pollster these days. When I started in 1984, two out of three people we reached on the then-universal landline said they were happy to take a poll. "Shh! Someone is calling me from New York and asking me important questions. I w...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: The future of globalism

Perspective: The future of globalism

Oh my, were we naive. The Cold War ended with a sort of whimper and we looked forward to making the world safe for democracy and perhaps even for a more compassionate capitalism. We understood that increasingly extreme inequities in wealth are diffic...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Column: The Trump administration is starting to pay attention to Africa

President Donald Trumpís first policy statement about Africa took place at the United Nations last September when he hosted a lunch for African heads of state. He correctly identified two major internal conflicts in South Sudan and the Democratic Rep...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: A national security strategy of coming to terms with competition

Perspective: A national security strategy of coming to terms with competition

The Trump administration, in a series of required national security documents, has signaled a dramatic departure from the Bush and Obama administrationsí visions of the U.S. role in the international order.The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: We need to prepare for instability in North Korea

Perspective: We need to prepare for instability in North Korea

North Korea has been a top foreign policy priority since President Donald Trump settled into the Oval Office. The president has repeatedly expressed his intention to "solve" the North Korean crisis, emphasizing that all policy options ó including mil...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Perspective: St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs will bring the world home to you

Perspective: St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs will bring the world home to you

Editorís note: In advance of this weekís sixth annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, several of the experts who will participate have written essays for todayís Perspective about key areas of concern, among them North Korea, national sec...
Published: 02/12/18
Updated: 02/16/18

Perspective: Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? Because junk food is the only indulgence they can afford

By Priya Fielding-SinghThe verdict is in: Food deserts donít drive nutritional disparities in the United States the way we thought. Over the past decade, study after study has shown that differences in access to healthful food canít fully explain why...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18