As election season starts to heat up, with Romney and Obama each ramping up efforts to paint his opponent as a political boogeyman, I am uninspired. Uninspired, despite increased efforts by both campaigns to engage my generation in what will likely be a close race in November. President Obama officially kicked off his reelection campaign last Saturday at Ohio State University in a carefully selected location aimed at speaking to our generation. But now that Obama has a real record to defend, and not just the sky-high hopes that fueled his 2008 campaign, it is unlikely that he can make young people as enthusiastic about his campaign as they were in 2008.
Obama revealed the new campaign slogan for his 2012 effort, “Forward,” a clever political ploy that tries to reframe conventional political wisdom. Traditionally, candidates have asked whether voters were better off now than four years ago, but for many voters this time around the simple answer is “No,” a feeling fueled by economic uncertainty. Since this is the first presidential election that I will be able to vote in, I have a hard time evaluating how things have changed over Obama’s first term. I was only a junior in high school when Obama was elected, and, needless to say, at that point I had very little perspective on the important issues of the day.
Sadly, I don’t think much of my perspective has changed. College has been a bubble that has removed me from many prevailing political issues. When evaluating whom I’m going to vote for in November, my views are admittedly shortsighted. With all the other commitments I have with school, family, and work, it takes a concerted effort to fight political apathy. And it’s not just me; this feeling is widespread among young voters. A recent Gallup poll found that Obama enjoys wide support among young voters, leading Romney by 35 percentage points in this demographic. But, Gallup notes, “The practical value of Obama’s broad support among young voters is lessened by the fact that only six in 10 of these voters say they are registered to vote, and that fewer than six in 10 who are registered say they will definitely vote in November’s election.” I don’t like being part of a group that is undependable, especially when there’s so much at stake. We are in danger of letting our long-term interests be underrepresented in politics.
As young people, it is vital for us to be both politically aware and involved. Based on our future life-spans alone, we have so much to gain or lose from the policy decisions that are made today that we simply can’t afford not to have a say in the political process. Politicians go where the votes are, and I’m afraid to say that the votes are not with us. According to the Pew Research Center, beginning on January 1, 2011, 10,000 members of the Baby Boom generation reached the age of 65 and from that day on through the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age per day. When I first heard these statistics, I was both shocked and dismayed. This demographic shift will put an increasing strain on social welfare programs and swell the ranks of a voting group that can already be counted on to make its voice heard reliably in the political process. For many baby boomers who don’t have stable retirement plans, social welfare programs will become of critical importance and a strong motivator for political participation. Essentially, our generation is competing with the interests of the generations before ours, who necessarily have very different goals when it comes to long-term prosperity versus short-term benefit. The implications of this struggle have the potential to destroy the foundation of the future.
Underneath all my concerns, I am calling for greater activism in politics from today’s youth. No matter who you believe is the right candidate to represent your interests, just make sure your voice is heard. It’s only through your own individual participation that our generation can go from having low turnout (a.k.a, little influence) to being critical players in the political system that is, and will continue, determining our future. Through collective action, we can make our interests a national priority by shaking off our widespread political apathy and demanding reforms to programs and policies that are currently implemented without future generations in mind. We must refuse to let our political system be hijacked by those who would ignore the long-term health of our—yes, our—country and instead put forward new ideas and solutions that can make America a prosperous country for centuries to come.
Dillon Cory is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.