As President Barack Obama comes off of a substantial second victory, many pundits have pointed to the youth vote and a significant factor in his most recent success. Reports show that 60 percent of young voters cast ballots for Obama, while only 36 percent voted for Gov. Mitt Romney's more conservative policies. While many older voters believe this suggests young voters are unaware or uninterested in the nation's economic concerns, a major platform in the 2012 election, a number of polls suggest the economy is actually a top priority for most young voters. As it happens, though, young people seem to have very different ideas on how best to handle economic instability than their older counterparts.
Young voters in the U.S. today are among the most racially and ethnically diverse in US history. Only 62 percent of young voters identify as white, while 18 percent are black and 14 percent are Hispanic. Women also outnumber men among young voters by a significant margin, making up 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-old voters. Most young voters identify as liberal, with 45 percent claiming Democratic Party affiliation, compared to only 26 percent identifying as Republican. But 29 percent of young voters refuse to identify with either party.
Young voters often differ from older generations in how best to handle economic concerns. For example, 69 percent of young voters favor an expanded role for government, agreeing that it should do more to solve problems, while only 27 percent feel that the government is involving itself in matters better left to businesses and individuals. Among voters aged 30 years and older, opinions on government involvement in economic matters are far more evenly split.
Some say that the interest in a more active government role among young people is indicative of a strong economy and private sector, but polls have shown that this isn't the case. In a Pew Research Center study, under-30 voters listed the economy as the top issue of the 2012 election season.
While U.S. unemployment has hovered under 8 percent pretty consistently over the last year, unemployment for young people is at 12 percent. An additional 1.7 million young adults who aren't working aren't counted in the figure. Without employment, many young people are struggling to find affordable healthcare coverage, while average student loan debt among U.S. households in now more than $26,000. In short, while the economy remains a major concern for young voters, they also appear to view many Republican policies as likely to make matters even worse.
While President Obama's policies mainly involve substantial growth of the federal government, to the nation's youth the policies also seem to largely save them money and allow for a more secure future. And while Obama's healthcare plan has been bitterly divisive among older votes, it allows young people to stay on their parent's coverage for several years longer, allowing for security while they search for steady employment. Obama's student loan reform plan was also popular among many young graduates currently burdened with thousands of dollars in college debt.
Interestingly, 77 percent of respondents to a Generation Opportunity survey stated they would reduce federal spending if given the opportunity to set America's fiscal priorities, suggesting that young voters believe government intervention in economic matters is a necessity even when overall federal spending is overextended.
As young voters come of age, fiscal policy will quite possibly evolve towards one in which the federal government plays a larger role in assuring large corporations maintain a level playing field and markets remain fair. While a strong economy is a chief priority to young people, they also seem to view federal intervention in markets as essential to ensuring high quality, full-time job creation and maintaining a focus on resources that will ensure stable long term economic success. For young voters, education, natural resource protection, job creation and economic stability are not all entirely disparate issues, but in fact are all necessary components of stable, healthy, and secure nation. As these voters continue to make their voices heard in the coming decades, let us hope that the passion and investment they have illustrated in recent election cycles translates into an informed and thoughtful electorate for years to come.
Emma Collins is a full-time education writer who covers many of the issues impacting today’s college and graduate students, and has recently created a directory of top MBA programs.
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