Annette John-Hall: Why disillusioned young voters may abstain from the polls

"I was just happy to get in," said Chelin Lyles, second from left, a first-time voter from Evansville, who listens to election deputy, Don Assalone, left, as he tells her how to work the voting machine on the last day of early voting at the Civic Center in Evansville, Ind. on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/ The Evansville Courier & Press, Molly Bartels)
"I was just happy to get in," said Chelin Lyles, second from left, a first-time voter from Evansville, who listens to election deputy, Don Assalone, left, as he tells her how to work the voting machine on the last day of early voting at the Civic Center in Evansville, Ind. on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/ The Evansville Courier & Press, Molly Bartels) (AP)
Posted: November 07, 2012

Four years ago, my daughter's excitement was palpable. A first-time voter living in North Carolina, she enthusiastically put her full support behind Barack Obama, the candidate she truly believed in. She was convinced that her efforts and those of thousands of other young people would help flip a traditionally red state to Carolina blue - and it did.

Fast forward to 2012. Boy, it sure didn't take long for disillusionment to set in.

"I don't think I'm going to vote this year," she proclaimed a couple of weeks ago.

Cue my distress setting in.

"I don't trust politics. Politicians say things that they think we want to hear. People's minds are being bamboozled," she added. "I do have a choice - to vote or not to vote."

She's not the only young person who thinks that way. According to Pew Research, 66 percent of voters 30 and under voted for Obama in 2008, the biggest disparity between young voters and other age groups in any presidential election since 1972.

We don't have exit-polling data yet, but anecdotal evidence is already signaling that this time around, it will be different.

Ben Berger, a professor of political science at Swarthmore, can tell that his students are not as politically energized compared to four years ago, just by what kind of volunteerism they choose. Berger's class, Democratic Theory and Practice, requires students to work on some type of civic engagement. In '08, students flocked to do voter registration and mobilization. This year, not so much.

"I think they're weary" because of the grueling, heated nature of a long, hard-fought campaign, Berger says. Plus, students don't see Obama as the rock star he was in 2008.

"The luster is gone for Barack Obama," Berger says. "They may think he's still right, but they don't think he's as cool."

Voter values

Cool points didn't come up in the talking points of a panel of political science and anthropology professors who discussed the moral differences between liberals and conservatives at Swarthmore College over the weekend. But the roots of our negative discourse did.

The forum was based on The Righteous Mind, a book by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who seeks to explain why human nature informs our political discourse.

For instance, Haidt says, conservatives value loyalty, authority, sacredness, and merit, while liberals value universality, progress, rationality, and equality.

Well, I don't necessarily buy that. Neither does political science professor Carol Nackenoff, who says Haidt's book is silent on the values that women hold. She points out that according to a Rutgers University study, women are more likely to support programs that guarantee quality health care and basic human needs; they're more supportive of restrictions on firearms, and more likely to support affirmative action and racial equality.

Regardless of whether they're Democrat or Republican.

"Everybody has moral virtues," says Berger. "But it's another thing to call them political virtues and try to enshrine them through government."

The trick, then, is to figure out a way to talk to each other despite political inclinations. "We can argue about issues of fact without calling our opponents twisted or evil," Berger says.

That kind of harsh language makes folks tired. Still, I had a long conversation with my daughter about voter apathy. I explained to her history and struggle, reminding her that our ancestors died for her right to vote. ("I know, Mom!" she whined. Yes, she still whines at 23.) I reminded her that choosing not to exercise that right was not a choice at all. In a year already rife with voter suppression, not voting amounts to self-suppression, the worst kind of disenfranchisement.

Once the election is over, she and the rest of us, mercifully, won't have to listen to the lies, the partisan nastiness, the wooing of Ohio.

But this is her time. Our time. To cut through the campaign clutter and speak up in the most powerful way we know how.

With our voice. Make it heard. Vote.

My daughter told me she has decided to cast her ballot today.

And boy, did I approve that message.


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Annettejh.

|
|
|
|
|