I have been conscious of presidential elections since 1992, when Bill Clinton was making his first run for president and I was a junior in high school. That year was the first time I heard of Rock the Vote, a nonprofit hooked up closely to MTV, where I heard their message. Its not that my house had MTV – we didn’t – but a lot of my friends did, and that’s where I got the feed. (Since then MTV has expanded their interest into youth activism, all suspect for the consumerist bent, but hey – who else is talking about it?)
Anyway, since then the marketing, aka voter drives, to get youth voters engaged in the electoral process has become much more intensive. This year that 16-year campaign comes to fruition, as media and pollsters show young people are more interested than ever before, more youth are going to vote than ever before, and Obama is going to win by a landslide because of youth voters.
But these sources are downplaying the substance of the so-called “youth vote.” Along with the realization that there is no such thing as one “youth vote,” young people increasingly identify their disenfranchisement within a political system that does not acknowledge the unique needs, perspectives, actions or wisdom of youth.
Politicians try to acknowledge this imbalance by actively speaking to the issues all young people care about, like education and the wars. However, the disjuncture between that rhetoric and the realities faced by children and youth today has to do with politicians’ sources for learning about those issues. Rather than relying on simplistic polls and research summaries by their lackeys, politicians need to listen to young people themselves to learn what they care about and how they care about it and how they think it should change. Only then will the youth vote have any substance.