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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Sterling Compass

If there is one thing that irritates me more than the thought of a glorified hockey mom being a heartbeat away from the presidency, it’s the assertion that your vote doesn’t matter. And by you, I mean the voting demographic ages 18 to 24. Because, my friends, it actually does.

The 26th Amendment. You probably don’t remember this from when you took American Government, but it’s responsible for your right to vote today. Prior to the 26th Amendment, most states set the voting age at 21 but popular protest during the Vietnam War made people realize that if someone could die for this country, then why shouldn’t they be able to participate in the democratic process?

Even with the American youth’s newly won right, most chose apathy over civic duty and voter turnout for ages 18-22 was disproportionately low. Because a good portion of youth did not vote, candidates focused their message on other, more politically active groups. After all, what incentive was there for a candidate to appeal to the youthful voter if they weren’t going to vote anyway? This had an adverse effect that created a deadly circle of de-politicization, as the American youth could relate less and less to politiciansmessages. Candidates focused on issues that seemed far removed from college-aged voters. So what was the point of voting?

But something has changed. And it was caused by a 3-digit number.

Five hundred thirty-seven. All conspiracy claims aside, in the 2000 presidential election this was the number of popular votes that separated Al Gore from George W. Bush in the quest for Florida’s prized electoral votes. In the end, Bush won Florida, and through it, the presidency. Both parties sought to prevent another close-call election by taking advantage of the last untapped political goldmine; the youthful voter. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 24. This means you. That’s why this election has seen an unprecedented attempt by both candidates to appear youthful. McCain, already disadvantaged by being really, really … really old, has tried to resolve this by portraying himself as the cool, hip grandfather type and even Obama has used youthful jargon to connect with voters. But both candidates have made use of popular culture to connect to the youthful voter. And yes, I am referring to Saturday Night Live.

SNL’s capitalization of this election will go into the history books as making this the silliest presidential election of all time. Even in the face of a serious time, for the younger generation, humor sells, and McCain and Obama know it. Tina Fey’s portrayals of Sarah Palin, along with other candidate spoofs have drawn enormous ratings and characterized this election’s public discourse. Both John McCain and Barack Obama and even our friend Sarah Palin made personal appearances on SNL in attempts to appear cool and in touch with young people. But why? In the world of presidential campaigning, every appearance, action and word are carefully calculated. Either candidate could have spent the time it took to fly to New York and appear on SNL doing more traditional … campaigny things, like speaking to crowds of blue-collared workers, attending Eagle Scout ceremonies, or my personal favorite, photo-ops in elementary schools reading to minority children.

Take a look around; the American youth is electrified like never before. For once, people are talking more about politics than who will be the next American Idol. Perhaps much of this is due to the fact that popular media outlets like SNL have become politically charged. Or maybe we are just growing up. But one thing is certain; this is the first time in American history that our demographic will determine the outcome of a presidential election. If those hoping to become the next president of the United States believe your vote matters, then shouldn’t you?

MICHAEL HOWER knows what you under-aged kids are thinking and assures you that using the same logic that brought about the 26th Amendment won’t get you any closer convincing Congress to lower the federal minimum drinking age to 18. You can reach him at mahower@ucdavis.edu.


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