"Something's Gone Terribly Wrong" - Young Voters Disgusted By "Negative Tone" Choose Not To Vote

Fundamentally, the presidential race is about giving America's youth hope about the future and faith in the democratic process in which everyone's voice is heard. Which is why it was troubling to read a recent poll according to which America's youth has become so disgusted with the presidential race, increasingly more may skip casting a vote on November 8 altogether.  As Reuters reports, the exceptionally negative tone of this year's race for the White House is souring young Americans, turning some away from the democratic process just as the millennials have become the single largest US generation.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that Americans aged 18 to 34 are slightly less likely to vote for president this year than their comparably aged peers were in 2012; as a result some political scientists worry that this election has scarred a generation of voters, making them less likely to cast ballots in the future. Needless to say, in an election where the two candidates are the most despised in history, many will be voting not for "their" candidate, but against the "other" one.

Even so, young Americans on the left and right have found reasons to be dissatisfied with their choices this year. Senator Bernie Sanders had an enthusiastic following of younger people before he lost the Democratic primary race to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with his endorsement of Hillary may have burned many of his counter-establishment bridges. On the Republican side, some are unwilling to vote for Donald Trump, citing the New York businessman's insulting rhetoric on women, minorities and immigrants. Meanwhile, despite her lead in the polls, Hillary remains a largely mistrusted candidate.

Take the example of Brandon Epstein, who turned 18 on Monday, and had looked forward earlier in the year to casting his first vote for Sanders. Now, the resident of suburban Suffolk County, New York, tells Reuters he plans to sit out the vote on Election Day, Nov. 8.

"It's because of the selection of the candidates. I find them to be not just sub-par, but unusually sub-par," said Epstein, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Something's gone terribly wrong."

Millions of his young peers agree: poll data reveals that young Americans are less enthusiastic about their choices in November than they were four years ago when Democratic President Barack Obama faced a re-election challenge from Republican Mitt Romney. Some 52.2% of respondents aged 18 to 34 told Reuters/Ipsos they were certain or almost certain to vote, compared with 56.1 percent who reported that level of certainty at the same point in 2012. Which also means that almost half of young Americans may not show up at the polls at all.

The national tracking poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It included 3,088 people between 18-34 years old who took the survey from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, and 2,141 18-34 year olds who took the poll on the same days in 2012. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points for both groups.

A disturbing trend

Four years ago, we showed a troubling chart: America's political apathy is already one of the highest among most developed nations, with the OECD estimating that less than half of eligible Americans turn out to vote, second only to South Korea. 

It now appears that even fewer Americans, mostly the young ones, will vote in future elections. According to Reuters, for at least the past half century, young Americans have voted at lower rates than their elders. But this year's decline in enthusiasm is of particular concern because it comes as the millennial generation - people born from 1981 through 1997 - has become as large a bloc of eligible voters as the baby boomers - born between 1946 and 1964. Each group's number of eligible voters is approaching 70 million people, according to the Pew Research Center.

"This generation has never trusted the government, Wall Street or the media less," John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, said of the millennials. "That's likely to result in turnout of less than 50 percent and of those who do turn out, there is still a deep cynicism regarding the impact of their vote, whether or not it will make a difference." The recent set of Wikileaks revelations will only underscore this cynicism.

From a philosophical perspective, the projected low turnout is a particular concern given recent research showing how important habit is in encouraging voter participation. Put simply, a person who votes in one election is about 10% more likely to vote in the next than an eligible voter who opted to stay home, said Alexander Coppock, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

"If you extend that logic, if you have an election that fails to turn people on to voting, you'd expect that you wouldn't get that cumulative effect," said Coppock, whose article "Is Voting Habit Forming?" was published in this month's issue of the American Journal for Political Science.

From a more practical standpoint, young Americans represent a core voting block without whose support Hillary Clinton's victory would be far more precarious. As we pointed out one month ago, it is the young and disenchanted voters who have failed to find a resonance with Hillary. As we pointed out, "when shifting away from her core demographics of minorities such as Hispanics and Blacks, Hillary suddenly has a problem communicating with the one age group she was supposed to carry without much of a problem. Indeed, if millennial voters do drop off significantly, either voting third-party or not showing up at all, that could wound ClintonYounger voters were a primary voting bloc for President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012."

While Trump has largely ignored America's yougn adults, Clinton has made millennial outreach a core focus of her campaign, emphasizing her college affordability plan, promising student loan forgiveness, and dispatching Bernie Sanders, who galvanized millennial voters in the primaries.

"The way for Trump to win is relatively strong white turnout for Trump and lower turnout among Latinos, African-Americans and 18-29 year-olds for Clinton," Rothenberg said.

Indeed, and if America's Millennials have finally gotten disenchanted with Hillary, whether due to her conflicts of interest, her questionable honesty or even her health, then Trump's victory may be much closer than many expect. For now, however, Hillary has a big problem, and how she addresses it could mean the difference between victory and defeat on November 8.

Still, the apathy is not all consuming, and not all young voters unhappy with their choices will be staying home. Some plan to cast a ballot anyway, even if only in protest, rather than sitting out. That group includes Cameron Khansarinia, a 20-year-old vice president of the Harvard Republican Club, who said he would cast a ballot even though he opposed Trump.

"I will definitely vote, I just don't know if I will be writing someone in or voting for (Libertarian) Gary Johnson or even voting for Hillary Clinton when it gets down to it," said Khansarinia, who is registered to vote in heavily Democratic California. "Once this is over, come Nov. 9, we will need people here to rebuild the party."

Sadly, it appears that this young Harvard student has yet to figure out that when it comes to the Democratic or Republican party, it is just one and the same.