I’ve grown old waiting for that elusive youth vote.
That long rumored “decisive turnout” among millennials . . . maybe in the next millennium.
I’m a slow learner who in the past has written — as we headed into one election or another — that surely this time young voters will awaken from their civic hibernation, consult their GPS apps and find their way, no matter how grueling the journey, to their designated polling places. Finally, finally, finally, they’ll rock the vote.
Eighteen years ago, I might have believed, or maybe hoped that MTV’s nationwide “Choose or Lose” campaign led by celebrities like Mary J. Blige and LL Cool J would rouse American youth out of an electoral somnolence. But the kids chose to lose. Sixty percent of the eligible voters under age 30, who might have altered the outcome of an ever-so-close presidential election, stayed home.
Four years later, the “Vote or Die” rock n’ roll cavalcade rolled into South Florida. And there I was, the dutiful journalist, come to witness the revolution. A busload of DJs and musicians took to an outdoor stage in Miami and coaxed the kids to dance, grovel for free "I Am A Vote" T-shirts and cheer wildly at references about their potential power to alter political history. They were told that young voters would make a difference in the coming election. The artist then known as P. Diddy promised, “On Nov. 2, the revolution will be televised.”
Some revolution. Fifty-three percent of the 18-to 29-year-old voters — a crucial element of the Democratic Party’s coalition that year — didn't bother. The under-30 crowd might have preferred John Kerry by 10 percentage points in the polls, but their civic ardor faltered when they discovered that voters cop no swag. No free tees. No rock-the-vote frisbees or headbands. Those little oval “I voted” flag stickers hardly seemed worth the effort.
They rocked the vote just fine. Casting the vote was another matter.
The Obama campaign of 2008 energized the under-30 crowd — half of them anyway. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of oldsters, 65 or older, remembered to vote. Two years later, the midterm election brought out a paltry 24 percent of the eligible young voters.
In 2012, the youth vote campaign went with the slogan #WeWill. Should have been #WeWon’t. Just 46 percent of the 18-29 crowd showed up for the general election. Nearly 80 percent ignored the 2014 midterm election.
In 2016, the catch phrase was “Truth To Power.” After a 43 percent turnout by young voters, Power trumped Truth.
Over the last two decades, turnout among the apathetic young — 54 percent of whom identify as Democrats — lagged some 38 points behind the over-60 crowd. Rock the vote seemed to refer to rocking chairs.
Maybe, maybe, maybe, the 2018 midterm election on Nov. 6 will produce the elusive exception. Despite the wonders of noise-canceling headphones, the outrages coming out of Washington must be penetrating the collective consciousness of even the most self-absorbed of the millennial and post-millennial and the Gen X set (I’m not hip enough to know the ages of demarcation.)
Young women, at least, ought to have plenty enough gender grievances in 2018, year of the #MeToo uprising, to rouse them from their collective slumber on Nov. 6.
Surely, a sizeable percentage of the young must find the antics of the aged white retrogressives running Washington so repugnant that they’ll express their displeasure at the polls.
True, the top of the ticket in Florida includes a choice between a couple of charisma-deprived codgers who can barely stir coffee, much less a political rally. A debate between U.S. senate candidates Bill Nelson, 75, and Rick Scott, 65, promises all the excitement generated by a Century Village condo board meeting.
But the governor’s race features two candidates not yet in their geriatric years. Andrew Gillum, 39, owes his surprise win in the Democratic primary, in part, to an unexpected surge of support from the Bernie Sanders children’s brigade. Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate, just turned 40 on Sept. 14. Which means, barring an unlikely win by a 37-year-old Republican gubernatorial candidate in Hawaii, Florida will elect the nation’s youngest governor in the nation.
This could be the year that real life outrages finally awaken Florida’s young voters. After the Parkland massacre, angry teenage activists have had enough of a political class that kowtows to the NRA. Young voters are set on getting rid of politicians who’ve allowed agriculture interests to dump farm chemicals in the waterways, fouling the rivers and beaches with toxic algae. Or who deny that Florida is in the throes of climate change. Or who shortchange public education. Or who denigrate women.
Maybe, just maybe, righteous anger will do more to motivate young voters than MTV’s slogans. After all these years, youthful outrage may finally rock the vote.
Fred Grimm (@grimm_fred or firstname.lastname@example.org), a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a reporter and columnist in South Florida since 1976.
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