Reporters from four public media stations on the West Coast have been working on a project to find out what is — or isn’t — motivating young voters to take part in the political process this year.
A Gallup poll in July found that only 58 percent of 18-to-29 year olds say they intend to vote this year, the lowest of any age group. But it’s an important demographic for the election hopes both of President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. As many as one in four eligible voters this year are in that age group, according to NDN, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.
“From the West Coast: Voices of Young Voters,” features millennials talking about politics, the election and the future of the country. You can find more at the four participating stations: KQED in San Francisco, KPCC in Los Angeles, Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland and KPLU in Tacoma, Wash.
“We wanted to represent the geographic diversity of Oregon and get outside of the urban areas that tend to be more liberal,” said Amanda Peacher of Oregon Public Broadcasting. “In the cities, we did encounter a lot of people who identify as progressive. But we also met a number of passionate young folks who identify as conservative, or who don’t align with any particular political party. And in rural areas, we talked to 20-somethings who support Obamacare and same-sex marriage.”
Lillian Mongeau of KQED in San Francisco said: “The surprise was that even those planning to vote for Mitt Romney [about 10 percent of our sample] said they were socially liberal. To them, ‘small government’ was consistent with ‘no social regulations.’ In fact, students on all parts of the political spectrum had adopted the ‘liberty’ language of the Tea Party to explain how they felt about the government interfering in their personal lives.”
In Los Angeles, Kim Bui at KPCC said: “What surprises me most is the level of engagement these students have. For being a generation that is increasingly called self centered and apathetic, so far, even if someone is undecided, our interviews are full of engaged students who know their vote matters and will definitely head to the voting booth.”
But in Washington state, many of those who showed interest in politics said that didn’t necessarily mean they would vote.
“It was surprising how engaged these young eligible voters were on issues ranging from gay marriage to abortion and birth control to student loans,” said Dave Kellogg at KPLU. “Yet when asked whether they planned to vote, many said no, or at best, maybe. Reasons for their reluctance varied, but common threads included being turned off from the political fighting, the belief that their vote wouldn’t make a difference, and doubts as to whether they understood the issues enough to bother to participate.”
Ian Hill is responsible for outreach, engagement and social media for news at KQED in San Francisco.