by Laura K. Garrison
|Where were YOU last Tuesday?|
Last Tuesday was Election Day, and only 13 percent of voters who cast ballots were between the ages of 18 and 29. Let that sink in – 13 percent. If this statistic doesn’t elicit a response, consider this: almost 25 percent of voters on Tuesday were senior citizens who largely support the Republican Party. Tuesday’s youth turnout was better than the previous midterms when, in 2010, people aged 18-29 constituted 12 percent of voters. During the 2012 presidential elections, however, almost 20 percent of voters were between 18 and 29. I ask you, politically engaged and socially aware college students, where were you last Tuesday? Apparently not at the polls.
It was not a good day for Democrats, who lost control of the Senate when Republicans gained seven seats (two races are still in the process of determining a winner – Alaska and Louisiana). Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mark Udall of Colorado were among those unseated by their Republican challengers, though Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was able to hold on and defeat Scott Brown, the carpetbagger former Senator from Massachusetts. The Democrats also lost eleven seats in the House, though this number could grow. As a result, both houses of Congress will be overwhelming red.
None of this is much of a surprise, at least not for the political pundits who have been predicting disaster for the Democrats for months. History shows that the President’s party often loses a significant number of seats during his second term midterms – remember the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006. Many Democratic candidates were doing everything in their power to distance themselves from President Obama, making clear that they sometimes disagreed with him on key issues and even going so far as to avoid answering questions as to whether they had voted for him in 2012. There are many reasons why the Dems lost on Tuesday, among them their inability to campaign on the issues that matter to their liberal base. But young people must bear some of the blame.
As a student of Political Science who analyzes election results like it’s her job, I can say the 2014 midterms confirmed some of the truths of American electoral politics. Democrats come out to vote during presidential elections but stay home for midterms, while Republicans show up to the polls for every election. Young people, who traditionally support the Democratic Party, also come out in droves during presidential elections but can’t be found two years later. Most of the electorate has little interest in what happens between the big races, and this is an extremely irresponsible attitude to have.
If you supported President Obama in 2012 but didn’t vote last week, you’ve done him and his administration a great disservice. What happened on Election Day will have a pivotal impact on what the President is able to accomplish in his last two years in office and will have considerable implications for his legacy in American history. Republicans, empowered with majorities in both houses, will no longer just obstruct President Obama’s agenda, they’ll downright destroy it. Any legislation passed will be done with little input from Democrats and will be vetoed by the President. Obama will be forced to rely on Executive Orders, which will undoubtedly be criticized as undemocratic by the right. There is a very real chance that Congress will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and impeach President Obama. If you thought the last two years in Congress were bad, the next two will be even worse.
|It only doesn’t count if you don’t vote.|
I would like to think that every eligible voter on Barnard and Columbia’s campus cast a ballot on Tuesday, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology. Considering the numbers, however, that doesn’t seem likely. While there are no doubt significant barriers to voters – disenfranchising voter ID laws in states across the country that target groups that traditionally support Democrats, gerrymandered districts meant to protect incumbents, and complex voting laws that make it unnecessarily difficult to vote – we are lucky enough to attend a university that schedules our fall break during Election Day with the hope that we will cast our ballots and take an interest in our country’s fate.
There’s no denying that this campus skews liberal, more liberal than most. In class and on Low Steps, students make sure their voices are heard. If you’re excited that you can be on your parents’ health insurance until you’re 26, if you believe a woman’s health care decisions are best made between her and her doctor, if you believe climate change is a real threat to the future of the planet, if you believe the government should be investing in college students rather than making money off their college loan interest, you should have voted on Tuesday and voted for the Democrats. If you didn’t even make the effort, you’re as much a part of the problem as the Republicans who prefer gridlock to compromise.
In reality, there’s probably little that could be done to keep the Republicans from taking the Senate. But apathy is the biggest enemy to democracy, and I now can’t turn on the TV without hearing Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who in a few short weeks could be the Majority Leader, gloat about how the American people have spoken. No, they haven’t spoken, many of them couldn’t be bothered to vote.
In 2016, young people will return to the polls in (probably) record numbers, and the Democrats could very well regain what has been lost. If you really care about the environment, women’s reproductive health, immigration, universal healthcare, and any of the other issues Democrats care about, you’ll vote not only in 2016 but in 2018 also. Because midterms matter too.
Laura K. Garrison is a senior at Barnard and Senior Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.