Disappointed and anxious, young voters unlikely to show up in record numbers this fall
By Nico Machlitt of Highland Park Senior High School, St. Paul
Frustrated by a weak job market and high college costs, many young voters are less excited about this year’s presidential election than they were in 2008.
Mackenzie Piezhowski, 19 and a student at the University of St. Thomas, is concerned about having a good job and health care she can afford once she graduates.
“We were promised many things that weren’t accomplished yet,” said Piezhowski. “People need healthcare, but people also need jobs.”
Piezhowski, from Hutchinson, Minnesota, leans to the Republican side of issues and is likely vote for Mitt Romney. She feels that President Obama has had his chance to improve the economy and she’s ready for a change.
Matthew Smriga, the director of campus organizing for the Minnesota State University Student Association, spends a lot of time on college campuses trying to get more young people to vote.
He feels many of the young people who voted for President Obama in 2008 did so because he was dynamic, African American and promised change. After four years with Obama as the president, many young people are disappointed and wonder where the promised change is.
“It’s a combination of him (Obama) not being new and any personal disappointments in his performance. There is just no new fresh face in this election,” Smriga said.
In surveys and interviews, 18 to 29-year-olds say jobs and college costs are their biggest concerns. The statistics support their worries. Gallup, a polling company based in Princeton, N.J., reports that nearly a third of young Americans were underemployed in April – either without jobs or working part-time when they wanted full-time work.
Meanwhile, 37 million Americans owe money on college loans with an average balance owed of $23,300, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. More than 14 percent of the borrowers were past due on at least one college loan.
Michael Kolles, a 19-year-old St. Thomas freshman, is already worried about how to pay off his college loans. Because of that, he leans toward Romney for the election.
“We have now received a college education. So that should help us find a job, right?” Kolles said. “But with so many people looking for jobs these days, who knows how much this will help us.”
For other young voters, social issues matter a lot in this election. Nik Johnson, a 20-year-old student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, cares about gay marriage, particularly because his brother is gay. “People like my brother deserve to marry. It’s a civil right.”
He feels that Obama is a better choice for the president and plans to vote for him in the fall, in part because of Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.
Mara Morley, a 20-year-old St. Thomas student, cares most about restricting abortions and opposes Obama because of that. “Abortion is something that is important to me as a woman,” she said.
But young voters typically tilt liberal and Democratic. The issue is whether their worries about the economy and lack of progress on issues like college costs will keep many from voting at all.
Max Feverson, a 25-year-old bike mechanic and restaurant chef in Minneapolis, voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again this year. But he’s not excited about it. Disappointed the Obama hasn’t accomplished more in his first term, Feverson said, “He’s the lesser of two evils.”