ASCH: Democrats must focus on young people

Recent victories in Alabama and Virginia showcase the electoral power of millennial voters

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In Charlottesville, more votes were cast at the University Hall precinct than the statewide elections in 2013, and almost as many votes were cast in 2017 as were cast in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

After the Democrat’s stunning win in the recent Alabama Senate special election, there was a focus in the media on the high turnout among black voters, especially black women, that pushed Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.) to victory. What is also remarkable was that the share of black voters was higher in this special election than in 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama ran for president. Along with high turnout among African Americans, another group in the coalition which helped Jones win was young voters. Strong turnout among young voters in the state of Alabama, many of whom are minorities, was essential to Jones’ victory in the special election. Without young voters we would be faced with the prospect of elected officials like Roy Moore, so it is essential for the future of this country that young voters are recognized as an essential voting block for Democrats and treated as such. 

This trend also held in the 2017 Virginia general election. In that election, young voters turned out at a stunning rate of 35 percent, which is higher than the 2013 Virginia general election, and is double the number of young people who turned out in 2009. In Charlottesville, more votes were cast at the University Hall precinct than the statewide elections in 2013, and almost as many votes were cast in 2017 as were cast in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This high youth turnout must be encouraged because it has coincided with two important Democratic wins. After looking at both of these elections, it is clear that in order for Democrats to be successful in elections young people need to be a constituency that is taken seriously by elected officials. 

This focus on young people needs to be at the forefront of the Democratic platform not just because of contemporary election results, but because of future demographic changes. According to Pew Research Center, in 2016 Millennials matched Baby Boomers in terms of their voting-age population. Unfortunately, Millennials have not lived up to their electoral potential due to their tendency to vote at low rates. This change in demographics is an important trend for political operatives to take into account because voters under 35 favor Democrats over Republicans 69 percent to 21 percent for the 2018 midterm election, according to a recent poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal. That is a stunning lead that Democrats have over Republicans with young people, but more importantly it demonstrates that the blue wave Democrats want to see in 2018 will never happen unless they focus more on these voters. 

In order to convince young voters to go out and vote, Democrats need to address the serious problems that our generation faces. For one, the cost of college is out of control, which leaves Americans with a stunningly large amount student debt. Specifically, 17 million student loan borrowers are under 30 in the United States and these people have about $376.3 billion in student debt. Housing is also an issue for young people, with affordable housing becoming increasingly rare in desirable, job filled urban areas. This has become a huge problem in the housing market, because oftentimes with the crushing burden of student loans, young people cannot afford to make a downpayment on a house. In addition, programs like paid family leave and universal child care are necessary and would do a great deal to help women who have been joining the workforce at extremely high rates. These are all serious problems facing the millennial generation that have largely gone unaddressed. 

Policies to tackle these issues are necessary, and as long as they are not in the forefront of the Democratic platform, candidates will have a hard time turning out the young voters they need to win. It is clear that Democrats have taken young voters for granted for too long, so it is essential that they capitalize on the recent increase in engaging young people to not only fuel electoral victories, but to bring about needed change. This outreach must also include campaigning in minority communities since America’s population is becoming increasingly non-white. Young people in this country have serious problems and the numbers show that these voters favor Democrats, so it is up to the party to work for our votes, or suffer the consequences. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

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