Diary

The 'Youth' Have Failed The Messiah

Obama was supposed to have energized “the youth” of this country like no other presidential candidate ever. We were assured that with Obama as president we’d see a revitalization of “the youth” that would respond by streaming to volunteer for public service. And, in expectation of this avalanche of volunteers, and in build-it-they-will-come mode, Obama had passed through Congress his brown-shirt-like Serve America Act that pumped some $6 billion of our tax money into an upgraded national and community service program.

But the youth have failed him. According to Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) youth volunteering has dropped for the first time sine 9/11.

Of course, I am making light of the situation, here, admittedly. But, let’s look at something that goes against the Obama line of mythology as far as his real support among America’s youth goes. Let’s face it, it isn’t just Obama. The vaunted youth vote has been in steady decline since 18-year-olds were given the vote by a mistaken act of Congress in 1972.

Just before the elections in 2008, Gallup found that there was no increase in the proportion of first-time voters. It also discovered that young voters were still less likely to vote than older voters, at least if their polling can be believed — granted polls have been notoriously unreliable the last few elections.

According to the first poll, Gallup found that a mere 13% of registered voters said that this election will be their first presidential election, a percentage that matches what they found in 2004. Even worse, using an expanded model, that number fell slightly to 11%. Now, these numbers matched the higher than average first-time voters from the 2004 cycle, but it still seemed to say that Obama had not brought any great wave of new voters to the polls.

As to the tsunami of new, young voters surging to the polls that the conventional wisdom claimed was happening, Gallup didn’t find the prospect likely. Gallup summed up its survey on the youth vote for 2008 as such:

Gallup Poll daily tracking suggests that 18- to 29-year-olds are not nearly as likely as older voters to be registered to vote, to say they are thinking about the election, or to express strong intentions to vote. Thus, as of mid-October, there is not convincing evidence in the Gallup data that young voters will in fact vote at higher rates than in past elections. But even if things change over the next two weeks and many more young adults do become motivated to vote, turnout alone would do little to change the candidates’ overall support, according to Gallup’s likely voter models.

So, this would seem to comport with the decline of the youth vote from 1972 to today.

Now, add to that Obama’s proposed attack on charitable giving. If his plan to lower the tax deduction on charitable giving comes to fruition this would also negatively affect the volunteer rate in this country today. If less money is given to charitable causes, fewer programs that spawn volunteerism will be able to be initiated and, obviously, fewer volunteers will be needed.

Finally, we also need to realize that this country does not have a great tradition of giving free service to its government in the form of volunteerism. In fact, the general feeling about government is that it should leave us alone. So, unless Obama’s new volunteer program begins to impress people into its ranks, it will fail to thrill as has every other president’s push for an Americorps-like program.

The fact of the matter is that The Obammessiah is no different than any other president as far as the youth vote and volunteers are concerned. They just don’t care to put their own bodies on the line for him. Americans just do not like the idea of volunteering for government service (military service aside). Nor should they necessarily.

So, we can dispense with this myth that the kids will flock to this president’s side. Some will, of course. Maybe even a small percentage more than past presidents. But thus far there is no reason to believe it will be a youth avalanche for him.

The Decline of the Youth Vote

1972
18 to 24- 49.6%
25 to 44- 62.7%

1976
18 to 24- 42.2%
25 to 44- 58.7%

1980
18 to 24- 39.9%
25 to 44- 58.7%

1984
18 to 24- 40.8%
25 to 44- 58.4%

1988
18 to 24- 36.2%
25 to 44- 54%

1992
18 to 24- 42.8%
25 to 44- 58.3%

1996
18 to 24- 32.4%
25 to 44- 49.2%

2000
18 to 24- 32.3%
25 to 44- 49.8%

2004
18 to 24- 41.9%
25 to 44- 52.2%

2006
18 to 24- 22.1%
25 to 44- 33.5%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau