Florida Swing State 2012: Young Floridians Disengaged from Politics


Editor's Note: Florida is one of the key swing states in the 2012 election, along with Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Nevada. For the next several months, we'll be asking voters in each of these states to describe the mood in their state and discuss what it's like to live in a swing state. Here, Florida resident Elliott McCarthy shares his thoughts about the electoral mood among youth in Florida.

About 49% of eligible Floridians aged 18-29 turned out to vote in 2008, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). It was an unprecedented number of young people at the polls in a state that has become one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in our political system. For the first time in recent history, young people in Florida had a voice. They actually showed up to the polls. It was a turnaround opportunity for a state that had been labeled as the place where the electoral process goes to die.

At least that was how optimistic Floridians saw it.

These are the facts: Even with young voter turnout at 49%, Florida still ranked 28th in the union for young voter turnout. Young Floridians voted at exactly the same level as the national average. In addition, the voter turnout for voters aged 30+ stood at 68%, according to the CIRCLE study. This was also the national average. Even with the best voter turnout in recent history, Florida could only come up "average" compared to the rest of the nation. As we approach the 2012 election, it looks like once again Florida is the big question for all the pundits and talking heads.

However, the situation looks bleak. Although midterm elections do not necessarily indicate anything about presidential elections, the Floridian youth vote participated at a rate of 23.7% in 2010 (CIRCLE). That’s right. Less than a quarter of all eligible young Floridians made it to the polls in an election that saw the rise of the Tea Party. That is a drop of more than 25% from 2008. By comparison, voters aged 30+ voter at a rate of 48.7% in 2010.

Some predicted after the 2008 election that we were seeing the rise of the new generation as a political force to be reckoned with. Some said that technology and social networking had effectively mobilized the youth vote in unprecedented numbers. I don’t believe that any such thing happened, though. I believe that Barack Obama was able to inspire young people to vote because we saw something different. We saw someone that we thought could change the world.

So far, we have been wrong. The country hasn’t changed in any meaningful way since 2008. In fact, it sometimes looks like we have gone backwards. Because young people failed to show up in 2010, the Tea Party and the new conservative majority have been able to stymie the political process and push our country back. Now, our generation is ambivalent about the political system because we don’t see it doing anything good.

Young Floridians simply don’t seem to care about the political process or who might be leading their country. You may hear a passing conversation about someone running for office or a recent gaff that a candidate committed. But generally speaking, the young Floridians that I talk to simply aren’t engaged. It’s easy to blame that on age and experience, but I believe that it has something to do with the political culture of the state. The Tale of Two Cities Report (2010) showed that Miami is the least engaged city in the nation.

The people I talk to in Miami tend to lean towards Obama over former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney. However, I will be the first to admit that I tend to travel in liberal political circles. When I talk with people I tend to disagree with, the conversations are usually productive and both sides end up clarifying a good deal of misinformation about both candidates. What young Floridians don’t tend to realize is that it is not only the presidential election that matters. In fact, it may even be of greater importance who we elect to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Governor’s seat.

My friends quietly celebrated when The Affordable Healthcare Act was passed, but they don’t realize that Fla. Governor Rick Scott has vowed to block the expansion of Medicaid in Florida. They don’t always fully understand that even though Floridians sometimes go blue for the president, we tend to go Red for everything else. Sadly, it often seems that young Floridians don’t know about matters of political importance and don’t have any intention of finding out.