The Youth Vote

Vote Already! Vote Sign. Photo by Collin Knopp-Schwyn.

Guest editorial by RememberSekhmet

The 18-24 demographic is the Holy Grail of the American Left. Surveys show them as the most left-leaning demographic in America, and the Democrats have seen them as untapped potential almost since the voting age was lowered to 18. The jeremiads about “voter suppression” that come up every time a Voter ID law is enacted seem to assume minorities have especial issues keeping their paperwork straight. But is it the minorities who can’t seem to keep their drivers’ licenses current and in sync with their current address – or is this more about people new to “adulting,” who are still in a tumult of relationships and living arrangements, for whom election laws are supposed to be so indulgent? Note how many times moving a polling place 1000 feet further from a college campus is regarded in the media as unconscionable voter suppression. Note the surety everybody has on the Left that registering “nonvoters” is going to pay off so well for them. It is waiting for the Great Pumpkin of a youth-iest, quake-iest, youthquake-iest youthquake ever, that will sweep the DINOs and Republicans out of office forever and ever…..and it never seems to happen.

I have long said that people who don’t vote don’t vote for one of a combination of three reasons, this third of which is now becoming clearer to me: Apathy, Craziness, and Transience. Nonvoters either don’t care and are extremely alienated from mainstream politics, or they have views too far outside the mainstream to be validated by mainstream politics, or (and I think people really sleep on this factor) nonvoters simply don’t see themselves staying in the town in which they are currently eligible to vote long-term. Not being long-term residents, they don’t believe they have anything to contribute with their votes.

Have Republicans gone extra-diabolical with their plans to suppress the youth vote ruthlessly, by unconscionable requests like proof of residence and not accepting as identification a student ID that one can merely obtain by the tuition check clearing? Or are college students themselves largely aware that they are in a transitory point in their lives, and not getting attached to a place they plan to leave the moment they cross the stage at graduation, in denial of the chances they will move back to their hometowns, and not sure where they will end up when they graduate and leave? How many new college graduates have regrets where they end up, and go back into transition to go somewhere else?

In my perambulations to get some documentation on the subject, I ran across Handshake, or the Opportunity Democracy Initiative, a group dedicated to helping college students find jobs after college. People tend to stay in the region, according to the 2017-2018 report, but they do gravitate to a certain set of cities in their respective regions, like Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York City. Keep in mind that these are college students looking for high-prestige jobs in their respective fields, who may or may not have “kicked the tires” about the cost of living in their desired destinations.

EMSI has done a more comprehensive analysis about where graduates of various institutions really end up and they have found that only 40 percent of state university graduates live within 50 miles of their alma mater, while 61 percent of community college graduates do. Bear in mind, there does not appear to be an age breakdown. Even these numbers can be skewed by older-than-24 locals coming to the institutions to get things like alternative teaching certificates, MBAs, certifications, and other degrees in the fields in which they are already working. But even counting the local schoolteachers getting advanced education degrees, 60 percent of state college graduates don’t stay in the metropolitan area of the university when they graduate. And for some who do stay, some metropolitan areas can encompass a number of Congressional districts. You could grow up in Mesquite, Texas, go to school at UNT in Denton, get a job in Irving, and live in Arlington. All of these communities are in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but in different Congressional districts, and different counties. As an aside, Texas has as a state the highest retention of college graduates. But in any case, most college students seem to be aware they are not going to stay in the area after graduation. They are sending their resumés out to high-prestige companies in their field, but even if they don’t end up at those companies, they largely don’t stick around after graduation.

This especially applies for colleges and universities in “college towns,” whose economies are too limited to absorb the new graduates. How many openings for petroleum engineers are there in the Bryan-College Station area? Could any openings come close to hiring the new petroleum engineers who graduate this year from Texas A&M? Doubtful. And as Quentin Kidd wrote in 2016:

“…Even in their immediate post-college life, younger Americans are mostly still unsettled. As The New York Times magazine writer, Robin Marantz Henig once noted, “the 20s are a black box,” with an amazing amount of churn: a third move every year, going through an average of seven jobs, and marrying later than ever. In essence, some of the same structural limitations that parties face in mobilizing college students continues even when those students graduate.”

Some college graduate who did make it to New York City starts realizing he could do what he is doing in New York for a company in Dallas, and have his money go further. Someone else who moved to Vermont to put her college boyfriend through graduate school catches said boyfriend cheating on her, and realizes all of her friends in town are actually his friends. So now she wants to move back to her hometown of Tallahassee. A third graduate finds his new boss in Denver was a tyrant, and makes a new online boyfriend in Oregon. How common are these stories even in the years after graduation? All three of these individuals still don’t consider themselves to be “home,” and may not be all that bothered about local politics. Being college-educated, they may be loath to simply vote in the Presidential or Senatorial elections alone, and leave the rest blank. So they may still not vote at all, until they reach their ultimate destinations.

But this is not what especially Progressive Democrats want to hear. What they want to hear is that these eligible 18-24-year-old voters are somehow intimidated away from the polls, not that they have an internally consistent reason not to vote, and that there are systemic reasons they don’t become reliable voters before the age of 25. They believe in the Great Pumpkin of the youth vote, and blame everybody to the rght of them when waiting in that pumpkin patch becomes cold and uncomfortable.

It is also why I think the media is sleeping on the chances the moderate Democrats have in the 2020 primary. Sanders and Warren are counting on the college kids, and as in many years past, the college kids will be overestimated when the actual voting begins. HINT: Primaries happen within the spring semester of an academic year, and it is in that spring semester many college students will be planning their living arrangements for the following academic year in August or September. It is in that spring semester that college students are forcefully reminded that their address is often about to change, yet again. The graduating seniors are actually planning where they are going after graduation, and may not be sure themselves until much closer to when they walk across the stage. It’s much easier (although not easy) to get college students who have just settled in for the academic year to vote in November than it is to organize them in the following (or in this case preceding) spring.

I’d like to thank Alienmotives for suggesting I write this guest editorial!

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