By Sayre Quevedo
The ‘enthusiasm gap’ was all you really heard about when it came to young voters this election. So most people, including pollsters, were thrown off guard when the youth turnout was on par with 2008 numbers.
After interviewing a lot of young voters throughout the campaign, I was a little surprised too.
Here’s how Felicia Sullivan, a researcher at CIRCLE which follows youth and politics summed it up: “We were actually prepared to tell a story of why was youth turnout not at the level it was at in 2008. And we don’t have that story to tell. We have a better story,” she said.
Turns out young people, whether they are enthusiastic or not, are consistently voting. Here’s what I found surveying young voters right before and right after the election.
At UC Berkeley, most of the young people I interviewed were supporters of President Obama, but not enthusiastic ones. Bianca Juarros, a junior, hypothesized about why this might be, telling me, “Mainly, I think young voters maybe were disappointed in the way he handled things or the way things turned out in the end, whether it was Obama’s fault or not.”
But election night on campus looked pretty much the same as it had four years ago, with huge crowds on Sproul Plaza.
College students are known for voting at high rates, but I also talked to young people who aren’t in college, and tend to show up in smaller numbers at the polls.
20-year-old Joshua Clayton lives six miles away from the Cal campus, in West Oakland. Walking around his neighborhood, he says it’s pretty much been the same his whole life, no matter who is president. Lots of poverty, too much violence, and decaying infrastructure. As for politicians: “To me, nobody deserves my hope,” Clayton told me. “Because not one person on earth can prove themselves.”
Clayton didn’t want to vote because he didn’t expect it to change anything. But his grandma kept working on him, telling him, “One vote really can make a difference.” And he surprised even himself, and cast a ballot.
In the end, the youth vote did make a difference. In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, Sullivan’s group CIRCLE calculates that if just half the youth voted differently or not at all, we’d be talking about be President-elect Romney instead of President Obama.