How the Democrats Lost the Youth Vote

By Ethan Porter

Published November 12, 2004, issue of November 12, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

On Election Day, I and my fellow “Gen Yers” were expected to carry John Kerry to the White House, but by late evening it was obvious we had failed to vote in numbers large enough to deliver the election for the senator. “The youth vote is bunk,” conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg declared gleefully.

The thing is, it’s not true — there is a youth vote. But for the umpteenth straight election cycle, it remained effectively untapped by both parties. We voted sporadically and, as could be expected, largely but not overwhelmingly for Kerry.

To win a more decisive share of the youth vote in future elections, the Democratic Party must return to its roots. This is not to say it should turn “left” or “right,” because at this point the ideological spectrum in America has been so twisted and mutated that neither Adlai Stevenson nor Barry Goldwater would find a comfortable seat in our political scene. The Democratic Party was once the party of hope, and to regain power it must become so again.

Progressive politics of any sort has the inherent ability to inspire. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party of the recent past has failed to talk about the notion of progress — perhaps fearing it as being too close to that terrifying four-letter word, “liberal.” Instead, the party has focused on convincing voters that, empirically, its positions make more sense than those of the GOP. And although recent history bears out this claim, it also means that Republicans have successfully replaced issues of substance with social wedge issues.

Abortion, gay-rights and guns dominate red-state discourse, and thus national elections. Democrats, meanwhile, have remained silent. Democrats do not inspire; when asked about gay marriage or gun control, they shuffle their feet and look at the floor like nervous schoolboys.

The solution is not to sway right — which besides demonstrating a profound lack of conviction would also appear entirely unbelievable — but to sell Democratic positions by enunciating how they differ from those of Republicans. The youth vote, in turn, would become even more Democratic than it is today.

How and why will this happen? Guns and abortion are likely to be the subjects of irresolvable arguments from now until the demise of the republic. The debate over gay marriage, however, is relatively new on the mainstream American stage. Although the right wing has led the charge against it recently, it behooves Democrats to take a firm stance in favor of it.

Polls conducted by MTV and the Annenberg election survey have indicated that the younger generation is far more liberal than their parents’ generation when it comes to this issue, so one can quite plausibly imagine that a strongly pro-gay marriage Democratic Party would appeal to the youth vote, especially if it were framed as a matter of civil rights. In addition, if its economic benefits were carefully explained to voters, some of the business class would in all likelihood join in supporting its passage.

Gay marriage, it could be said, is a both moral and an economic issue.

Suddenly, young voters would have a cause and the Democratic Party would have a purpose. Assuredly, this purpose would repel the Christian fundamentalist voter bloc to no end, but the only way for Democrats to win the support of such voters is to cease to exist.

Change in the Democratic Party must flow from the recognition of one undeniable truth: that the strength of the party, though temporarily obscured by “triangulation” and other such philosophies of political convenience, lies in its potential to inspire voters.

President Bush and Karl Rove have political acumen to spare, but their politics naturally handicap them, for the sort of politics they stand for pits neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. There is no unity, only acrimony.

“John Kerry calls on us to hope,” proclaimed rising party star Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in July. Alas, he did not, and he lost. Yet the next Democratic candidate, if he speaks persuasively and proudly in favor of gay marriage and of building a more hopeful, united country, would win most of the youth vote — and perhaps even the national election.

——

Ethan Porter is communications director of the College Democrats of New York.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.