Young Voters Fight for Political Leverage, Agency in Changing Economic Climate

Sam P.K. Collins | 4/2/2014, 3 p.m.
D.C. voters between the ages of 18 and 29 engaged both council and mayoral hopefuls through college, community civic organization ...
Many young voters feel their concerns are largely overlooked by politicians, despite their willingness to participate in the electoral process. (Courtesy photo)

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) young men and women of color tended to vote as much on the basis of their current economic situations as they did other issues they faced based on race and class. Their findings, published in the 2012 National Exit Poll and conducted by Edison Research, found that young voters of color tended to hold more liberal beliefs than young white voters and believed strongly that the government should do more to solve problems 70 percent compared to 49 percent among young white men and women,). Additionally, young voters of color thought that health care laws should remain as is or be expanded 75 percent compared to 53 percent for the youth electorate as a whole, while 54 percent of young white male voters thought the new health care laws should be repealed.

Though CIRCLE established white male views of the economy as more dire than their African American and Hispanic contemporaries, they reasoned it to be a result of white males feeling the U.S. system was working well before the Obama administration and that changes under his administration worsened their economic conditions. Thirty-three percent said their economic conditions were getting worse, compared to 21 percent of the youth electorate, despite the fact that white male voters were most likely to have a job (67 percent compared to 59 percent for youth overall).

For Royster, who is biracial, the unwillingness of candidates to broach racism or sexism and their impact on social issues, aids in the temporal rise of stereotypical attitudes that undergird poor race relations.

“There are neighborhoods all over the nation that are going through racial re-gentrifications that displace large numbers of people of color, yet few politicians will speak about it in economic, social, or racial terms. When people lose their homes, schools, and neighborhoods to dog parks and sidewalk cafes, it is really a sign that some young people are not voting or holding elected officials accountable,” Royster said.

Staying Afloat in the District

Though Royster and Bodie have fared fairly well as young voters, despite their misgivings about politicians taking their votes seriously, others like Mason Binion, have all but given up on the electoral process, focusing their attentions on the seemingly intrinsic corruption of D.C. politicians or their own day-to-day grind to stay financially afloat. It is of bitter irony that those whose circumstances demand legislative solutions, succumb to daily frustrations and choose not to exercise their votes.

“I’m always concerned about getting money because there never seems to be enough,” said Binion, an entertainer. “I have to pay for everything that I need for myself and my child. I haven’t been keeping up with the election because I can’t devote enough mental energy to it. Right now, what I have planned for my family is more important,” said Binion, a Northwest resident.

Burnetta Jenkins, a recent graduate of the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest, reached the height of her frustration last month when she could not get a D.C. government job. The mother of a seven-year-old son said that she feels that District residents aren’t given first priority for government positions.