Last year, 23-year-old Rashida Hill watched the presidential debates, visited the college political party meetings and put a Barack Obama bumper sticker on her townhouse door. She voted for Obama because she felt like the election was about "being a part of something."
But on Tuesday, the Virginia Commonwealth University student didn't bother voting in the governor's race because, she said, the candidates didn't give her anything to get excited about.
"The simple fact is, unless you put it in front of somebody, they're really not going to seek it out," Hill said.
Young voters turned out in fewer numbers for Tuesday's elections in both Virginia and New Jersey than they did in 2008 for the presidential election. That's not really a surprise since off-year elections generally generate less excitement. Overall, more than 3 million voters who cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election failed to show up at the polls in either state.
The youth vote, the lack of it, is troubling. In Virginia voters under age 30 accounted for just 10 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, compared with 21 percent in 2008. It was even worse in New Jersey. Young adults ages 18 to 29 compromised only 8 percent of the total New Jersey voter turnout. In 2009, the youth vote comprised 17 percent of New Jersey's electorate.
The importance of getting the young to turn out cannot be overstated. In New Jersey, 66 percent of those under 30 voted for Governor Corzine. Just 25 percent voted for the Republican Chris Christie. In Virginia given an 11 point drop-off and the lack of excitement for the Democrat Creigh Deeds generally, the youth split nearly evenly with Deeds capturing 51 percent to McDonnell's 49 percent.
This is not to blame our poor performance yesterday on the young because there were other factors involved. In Virginia, 15 percent of African Americans turned out compared with 20 percent last year. The bigger factor was both drop-off in the number of independents and their swing to the GOP. Independents made up the smallest part of the electorate turnout in both states - contributing 29 percent of the total vote in Virginia and 28 percent in New Jersey. McDonnell received 62 percent of the independent vote, while Deeds managed only 37 percent. In the Garden State Christie took 58 percent of the independent vote, while Corzine received only 31 percent. This more than anything did Corzine in.
Still, I think this statistic is pretty telling. If the Electoral College vote had been determined by only those 29 or younger, Obama would have trounced McCain 475 to 63. Obama carried this demographic in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota. Clearly, it pays off electorally speaking to engage the young and make them "part of something."