In 2008, more than 20 million milennials voted in the presidential election, helping assure Barack Obama’s victory. Now four year later, millenial voters number 46 million. This demographic—also known as GenY—has been deeply troubled by the recession, high unemployment rate and record student debt. How will that impact their vote?
A recent Harvard University poll of voters age 18 to 29 found that less than half plan to vote. In an effort to probe the thinking of millenials who did vote, students from the NYU undergraduate Beat Reporting class “Covering Gen Y” fanned out across the metro area on Election Day. Here are their reports:
Upper West Side
As Chastity Logan shivered in wait on the two-hour voting line outside PS 75, she regretted not wearing a heavier coat over her thin hoodie. Logan was one of the younger faces amid the crowd, a swarm full of complaining voices angry at the cold, the line, and the pushy bake sale volunteers. Yet she had a smile on her face—proud to be exercising her right to vote, and happy to see a handful of younger people spread through the mass.
It’s no secret that millennials rocked the vote back in 2008, but this year there’s been skepticism that the trend will repeat. Surveys like that of the Harvard Institute of Economics revealed that Obama’s youth vote has dropped a good 11 percent, while the Christian Science Monitor reported a general dip in the youth vote overall. Yet GenY-ers on the Upper West Side who stood in the painfully long line that extended through three long, mural-clad halls of the elementary school and fully around the whole city block beg to differ.
A young entrepreneur, Logan, 27, believes that people like her and her younger GenY friends will be huge contributing factors to the election this year. “In the last term a lot of the younger crowd was very motivated,” she said. “Young people have seen the way things have happened over the past four years and want to contribute again.”
She added that the hot-button issues have hit home for GenY. “A lot of my younger friends take issue with the workforce, graduating from college and making sure they can get a job, and not only get a job but making sure they can afford the student loans they’ve been able to accrue,” she said.
Despite the GenY characteristic of being less politically motivated, Nick Jenkins, 19, a recent graduate from The Dwight School, is very concerned with the election. “I care about my country and I care about the planet. I want to make sure the right person is in office,” he said. –MARIE SOUTHARD
On Election Day, PS3 Charrette Elementary School served two additional purposes, to aid in electing the next President, and to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The bright blue doors of the West Village school stood out from the otherwise drab exterior, with the left door leading to a line, usually extending to the sidewalk, of local residents waiting to vote, and the right opening to a bake sale and hurricane relief drive.
Once inside, those looking to vote had a long wait ahead of them, as the school’s auditorium was filled with twisting lines of different districts. The diverse crowd was all there for one reason: to vote. But they each make their decision differently, especially within Generation Y.
One GenY voter, Jordan Bryan, 25, cares most about diverse political issues. “Right now economy is number one. Things like women’s rights, being a female. I know abortion is kind of a hot topic right now, I do feel like it’s not really one of the frontrunners,” she says, “but I do think it’s important for women to have the right to decide about their own bodies. And other things like foreign affairs, but right now I think economy is kind of the frontrunner on everyone’s minds.”
While Anna Schecter, a 31-year-old photographer, makes her decision based on individual candidates, she tends to side with one party. “I guess I always vote Democratic. Because of not being an asshole to people who don’t have much, and being pro-choice. Those are the two big ones,” she says.
Roman Chimienti, 25, an audio engineer, doesn’t identify with either of the major parties. “My party at heart is independent and I vote by party, because essentially it’s the one that suits me best,” he says. For Chimienti, social issues are the most important, “Anything that has to deal with basically just people in general, not necessarily the economy. If we want to fix those things we have to unify ourselves first.”—SAMANTHA RULLO
On Election Day afternoon, the line started at the door of PS 41 on West 11th Street, with people alternately leaning against the door to prop it open and hastily shutting it against the cold. Some had political buttons and signs pinned to their scarves and hats. One in particular stood out. Beatrice Tierney, a 24-year-old architect student from the Lower West Side, was adorned with a piece of paper that read “#FORWARD.”
Tierney says she watched all the debates, and the social media craze made her even more impassioned about getting out to vote. “Sometimes people were focusing on the wrong things,” she said. “I definitely wanted to get out and make my voice heard. Seeing peoples’ reactions to the debates really freaked me out, so I wanted to make sure I do my part because I want to, not because of some weird, cynical reaction to an out-of-date tradition.” She says that before the debates and the way people reacted to them, she was not positive about whom to vote for.
Johanna Nchekwube, on the other hand, found the social media focus a deterrent. “It seems like everything is focused on the election,” the 21-year-old aspiring actress says. “Like, everything. Facebook is too overwhelming right now. It’s annoying. But I wanted to do my duty.”
Thomas (who did not give his last name), a 19-year-old from the Village, watched the debates for the sole purpose of participating in the drinking game. “I don’t remember the end,” he said. “I knew who I was voting for before any of that, it wouldn’t have changed my mind. I don’t like that people didn’t take it seriously, but if you can’t beat them, join them. That stuff is all a circus anyway.” –PHOEBE ROWE
Tuesday’s Election Day turnout at the JASA Community Center in East Village was no lighter than previous years according to residents, even with the devastation from Hurricane Sandy just last week. Gen Y voters especially were rolling in and out of the polling place in a steady stream all afternoon. These first, second, and third time voters made up a key part of the Democratic votes.
“Obama gets a lot of hell from people for how he’s been running the country, but I don’t think he could have done it any differently because he had his hands tied from previous administrative errors,” said 28-year old criminal behavior analyst Sarah. “In my opinion, Obama is a good president who is honorable, humble and loyal to his people.”
The third-time voter, who preferred not to share her last name, said that the individual, not for the party, determines her vote, and this time around that individual is Barack Obama. She supports his views on the three issues that are most important to her: women’s rights, same-sex marriage, and green energy policies.
Daniel Liu and Martha Ross, business partners at video news-sharing service #Waywire, also expressed similar opinions about the president. “Obama has done a lot of things he doesn’t get credit for,” 25-year old Minnesota native Ross said. “He does a lot for long-term benefits, but citizens want immediate gratification so they criticize him.”
Twenty-year old New York University student Rigel Sarjoo was excited to take part in the election for her first time, though she was still undecided as to which candidate she would vote for as she neared the front of the line. “All I know is that I’m not voting for Romney,” she said. Sarjoo became interested in politics during college, particularly because of how much the Occupy movement was covered on social media.
“In my opinion, the government needs to work more for us than for special interests,” Sarjoo said. “They should start working more on issues like student debt, equality for women, the way food is labeled and handled, and basic human rights.”—ANNIE PARK
In the last moments of a very close race for the presidency, every vote counts. A large weight has been put on the shoulders of GenY voters, which was the demographic that determined the 2008 election. On Election Day, many young millennials took their lunch and class breaks to go vote at JASA Community Center in Cooper Square. While retired people mostly inhabit the neighborhood and married couples over 30, the polling place still managed to draw a younger crowd.
Chelsea Xu, 18-year old NYU student, was voting for the first time and decided to cast her ballot for Barack Obama. For her, the discrepancies between both candidates helped make her decision. She felt that she couldn’t trust Romney because “he kept changing his positions throughout the race.” She also took recent events such as Hurricane Sandy into consideration. “Obama did a good job in helping out victims, but Romney only helped out victims in swing states,” she said. For her, the candidates’ actions during the race helped decide her mind.
Another first-time voter Rachel, 19, was “waiting for this day” for a while. This NYU sophomore also voted for Obama; she based her decision on prospects for the future. “Especially in this election, people are arguing about which candidate’s plan would be best for the country,” she said. She acknowledged that other young voters might go for the candidate that would show immediate results, but she felt that “Obama is looking out for the greater good in the bigger picture.” –RACHEL PARK
While most of America feels that fixing the economy was the top priority for the 2012 presidential election, many young East Villagers stressed the importance of social issues as well. At a polling site on East Fifth Street, GenY voters seemed particularly passionate about women’s rights, gay marriage, and public education.
Shauna Mei, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, is worried about the economy but feels like social issues take precedence. “Neither candidate can promise to fix the economy alone,” said Mei, “so I chose a candidate who promised to support civil rights: Barack Obama.” Mei said that this was also the first time she’d voted Democrat down the party line. “Obviously New York City is already very liberal but there really wasn’t any viable alternative in my opinion.”
Partisanship with respect to social issues also proved important to Gen-Y voters. “It’s really sad how divided the country is concerning social issues,” said Erica Anderman, 24. “Gay marriage and women’s health issues shouldn’t be ignored.” Anderman also expressed distaste for campaigns against abortion and birth control led by the G.O.P. in recent years. “It’s just crazy that in the year 2012 some politicians can get away with completely disenfranchising women and the LGBT.”
Older voters tend to separate social issues from economic issues but many Gen-Y voters see social issues and the economy as intrinsically linked. “Between student debt and the rising cost of healthcare, young people need to be considered in this economy,” said Kay Davis, 31. “Public education is becoming too costly, women aren’t given enough access to healthcare, and the socioeconomic divide is growing,” said Davis. “A strong economy depends on a well-educated and well-cared-for population.” –RYAN HUGHES
Sandy didn’t stop Downtown Brooklyn’s millennials from letting their vote count today at Borough Hall. From bloggers to chefs to musicians to students, the majority of Metrotech’s 20-somethings checked off President Obama as their choice to lead the country for the next four years. Along with social issues and the economy, education served as one of the greatest issues impacting GenYers. BK’s millennial generation weighed in on why they came out to vote and why education was important to them this election.
“I was unable to vote in the last election because I was not of age. When given the opportunity to exercise my right to vote, I took it,” sais 22-year-old Joseph Ramirez.
Ramirez is a first-year student at Brooklyn Law. If it weren’t for the Pell Grant he received to go to college as an undergrad, the road to law school would have been much more difficult financially.
“It’s people like me who need government assistance to make their dreams come true,” the Clinton Hill resident said. “I think [Governor] Romney forgets not everyone’s wealthy.”
Brooklyn college student Winston Blake, 21, agrees that President Obama is offering people of all classes a shot at education. “I agree with Obama that every American has a right to receive an education,” the Fort Greene resident said.
Danielle Jamison, 24, is a recent college grad and hopeful musician. Jamison expressed gratitude for Obama’s post-college-friendly healthcare plan. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I love as a musician if I couldn’t be on my parents’ insurance plan. Thank you Obama,” the Clinton Hill resident said.
Jamison didn’t pass up the opportunity to thank Obama by voting for him this election. “Obama made history in 2008. I wanted to help him do it again,” she said. —NATALIE ADEEYO
New York City GenY voters went to the polls today commencing their voting process by skipping through the streets screaming candidates’ names, whipping out their iPhones to take pictures of the “Vote Here” signs taped to the walls, and walking through the wooden doors of the Graduate Center at CUNY polling site near Herald Square to take part in this historic event.
These 20-somethings believed it was their duty to take part in the election process. “I came out because I was worried that there would be a low voter turn out because of the hurricane,” said 29-year-old Rachel Boufford outside of the polling station.
The two-hour wait did not dissuade 22-year-old Rachel Jespersen. “My mom was probably the one who motivated me the most to vote,” Jespersen says. “My parents drilled it in me that this is a civic duty, even if you believe your vote doesn’t count.”
Other GenY voters believed that simply exercising the right to vote and going to the polling sites was necessary during these elections, despite the fact that New York is primarily a Democratic state already. “I came out for the symbolism of it,” said 24-year-old Fordham University graduate student Michael Pegun. “Since New York isn’t a swing state, it’s about being part of the process.” –NITASHA MAINDIRATTA
Despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order stating that New York voters could vote at any polling site, lines were long and the still resonating effects of Hurricane Sandy on election day. The outcome of the announcement meant that not all sites were prepared for an onslaught of voters.
Lucky for the spirit of democracy though, the voting difficulties didn’t matter to some Gen-Y voters, who were standing outside a polling place on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street in full force on the brisk November day, just hoping to make a difference? The issues that matter and the reasons behind their votes are many, but a common theme seems to be how personal the issue of voting and choosing the right candidate has become to the generation.
For some, social issues such as LGBT and women’s rights are high on their list of priorities and for that reason, they’re voting for Barack Obama. Amy Mellman, a 22-year-old law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, cited such concerns, adding that she “doesn’t like Romney’s stance on women’s issues.”
However, others believe that Romney would help the country get out of the recession. “I like the direction Mitt would put the economy,” said Steve, a 24-year-old working in the foreign exchange market. “I like that he has business experience, because that’s important in terms of our economy and that’s important to me as a young, working professional.”
Other millenials still look to their families for guidance. Lindsay Egan, a 22-year-old Cardozo law student feels that because she is not yet independent of her parents, so she should follow her parents’ guidance. “I’m going to vote for Romney, because my whole family is Republican and my parents kind of want me to vote for him,” she said. “They’re supporting me right now, so I’m going to go with what they want.” –MARGARET COHN
Social issues held a significant importance for Generation Y in the 2012 presidential election, according to voter surveys conducted Tuesday. An informal poll of Gen Y voters found that the majority based their presidential vote on a variety of social views, like same-sex marriage and women’s rights such as abortion and birth control.
Cardozo Law School student Kevin Ruiz, 24, is concerned with “a protection to a lot of the gains we’ve made over the last 75 to 80 years. You see a lot of challenges to women’s issues and rights, social services, and welfare.”
Hunter Chancellor, 21, a senior at New York University, agrees that Gen Y will consider social issues at the polls. “Equality is a major issue that’s being brought up. Issues like abortion, immigration – things that are affecting our society,” he said.
The economy was a close second, with many Millennial expressing fear and concern over financial issues. A 22-year-old Cardozo Law student who wished to remain anonymous said, “I think the economy is really scary. I think the fact that we’ve got a lot of baby boomers aging and we have to pay into the system to finance them is just a little worrisome.”
Finances are considered a primary concern of older generations, he said. “I’m a student. I don’t have an income tax. I’m not a property owner. I think that taxes are a much bigger concern for those who have to pay them consistently, whereas I don’t really worry about that.”
As America becomes progressively more accepting and tolerant of different racial, gender, and sexual beliefs, younger generations cannot imagine reversing the trend. “We just have a different way of looking at things,” said Caroline Cunningham, a 20-year-old student at NYU. “Like, having same-sex marriage would not have even been in the question 50 years ago for our grandparents and such. So, that that is on the table means a lot as far as the differences between what our parents or grandparents faced as opposed to us.”—CARRIE COUROGEN
In Asharoken, Long Island, the village still remains on the brink of disaster after megastorm Sandy and extensive flood damages in the village hall forced local officials combine its polling place with Eatons Neck residents at the local fire department.
Despite the upheaval, residents still made the trip down dilapidated Asharoken Avenue, the village’s main road and the only road into Eatons Neck, to vote and to donate. “I was here at 6 a.m. and more people than ever were here,” said Pam Vogt, a local resident.
With so many Long Island residents still scouring the streets in search of an open gas station, many residents feared there would be some tonight who go without voting. “A lot of people are trying to carpool,” said Lynn Hall, a 19-year-old working as a poll-watcher. “I think around dinner time we might see a surge of people,” she said.
Despite the difficult of getting to the polls, GenY was out there, and they were eager to vote and express their opinions. Lynn Hall, the 19-year-old poll worker in Asharoken, voted for Obama, simply stating, “I feel like he didn’t f… up.”
In Centerport, Francesca Ramos, 23, also remained faithful to Obama. She said she still felt as passionate about him as she did four years ago when he spoke at her college. “I think he did a lot of things he promised,” she said.
Ben Iorio, however, age 21 and first-time voter, stood waiting his turn to fill out his ballot and held firm in his convictions that he would be voting for Mitt Romney, simply because he “is a conservative.” –MACKENZIE GAVEL