Payette's Point: If we don’t care about politicians, how can we expect politicians to care about us?
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Six weeks from today, all UNH students will have the opportunity to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right to vote. The level of political apathy and election-year excitement on a college campus is tough to gauge, but history shows more than 50 percent of college students will pass up the opportunity again on Election Day 2012.
Nov. 6 represents the first time many UNH students can vote for a president. This is a very exciting opportunity for some. But for far too many, voting is viewed as a time burden and a complex set of registration rules not worth learning how to navigate through. Much of the student population appears disinterested in electoral politics for a variety of reasons. The one I hear most often is the notion that politicians don’t care about our generation.
It is, in part, our own fault there is validity to the belief that elected officials care less about the issues of college students. Our generation has the lowest voter turnout rate (less than 50 percent) and a vast majority of the generation admittedly does not pay attention to current events, politics or understand the political process. Given that reality, how do we expect politicians to show an interest in our generation if our generation shows little interest in them?
The most effective way to get politicians to care about the issues of our generation is to vote. A single vote will not determine the winner of the election, but the votes of thousands of UNH students and other college students across the country will force politicians to focus on our issues. In truth, it is more important that we take a commitment as a generation to vote than whom we actually vote for.
Millennials (those between 18 and 30 years old) are the largest voting bloc in the country and they have the ability to shift the focus to the generation’s issues. The reason Medicare dominates the political debate is because 70 percent of seniors turn out to vote each election. If the millennials were to match that figure, more issues important to millennials will be thrust into the political debate. However, it is going to take the upfront investment of voting on Nov. 6.
My prediction has recent merit behind it. In 2008, the turnout rate for 18- to 24-year-olds was 49 percent, two points higher than in 2004. It was also the only age group with a significant increase in turnout. Moreover, voters between 18- to 29-years old supported President Obama by a two-thirds margin. Recognizing the impact of the youth vote, President Obama fought to keep federal student loan interest rates from doubling this year. The legislation will save an average of $1,000 a year for those who utilizing federal student loans.
The passage of the bill was remarkable given Washington’s gridlock and the Republicans opposition to any proposal made by President Obama. So, why is it that Republicans agreed to stop the rates from doubling? The answer was pretty simple. They feared the millennial vote and understood that losing the generation’s vote by historic margins again eliminates the opportunity of winning back the White House. Given that example, it can be expected a millennial turnout rate of 60 percent or beyond would bring new issues to the forefront.
In the previous New Hampshire legislative session, Republicans tried to block all out-of-state UNH students from voting in New Hampshire. Though the law was vetoed, Republicans did get legislation through that makes voting more difficult for college students. Despite the rhetoric, all UNH students have the right to vote in New Hampshire this year. Durham election volunteers will be in the Memorial Union Building on Oct. 11 and Oct. 18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer questions and help UNH students register to vote. More information can also be found at www.unh.edu/unhvotes.
Throughout this semester, I will make the argument why the millennial generation should vote for President Obama. For now, it is more important that we subscribe to the belief that the millennial generation is in this together and it’s best our collective voice is heard.
My point is that if we want politicians to care about our issues, we have to show we care about the issues they are debating. The best way to do so is to vote on Nov. 6.
Brooks Payette is a UNH graduate student, Truman Scholar and summer 2012 White House Intern.