Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, spoke with Univision host Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas on September 19.

Elections 2012: Will Young Voters Bother With Elections?

Mark Trahant
9/20/12

Univision host Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas interviewed Republican candidate Mitt Romney at a Meet the Candidate event in Miami on Wednesday night. Ramos explained that the Hispanic population (like Indian country) is much younger than the overall U.S. population, so the concern about education is critical.

One element in that concern is for young people who are in school or college without legal status in the United States. The Obama administration has a program called “deferred action for childhood arrivals,” that simply says the government will use its discretion and not deport or prosecute undocumented immigrants who came to this country with their parents.

Salinas asked Gov. Romney what he would do with the 1.7 million students under that description. Would he keep the Obama policy intact?

“What the president did was take no action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, even though he said he would,” Romney said. “And then he put in place something he called a stopgap measure — temporary. These kids deserve something better than temporary. They deserve a permanent solution.”

How would that happen? Romney didn’t say. He said he would start with the ideas brought forward from Sen. Marco Rubio with his framework for a new DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). That proposal was originally bipartisan, but short of enough votes for even a full debate in the Senate. It would have opened up a path to citizenship for the young people who grew up in this country but whose parents came from another country. Romney has said he would veto the DREAM act in its current form.

The DREAM act (and Obama’s action, which some call a mini-DREAM act) highlight the very different way young people look at the world.

Polls show overwhelming support by young people for the DREAM act. One taken in July by Siena College Research is a good example. When people 18-34 were asked about that measure, 50 percent said they support. Only 13 percent said they opposed it. (Conversely: Those people surveyed who are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, support the measure but by only a dozen points or so.)

And those numbers are close to the way young people see this election. A recent poll by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows young voters favoring President Obama 59 percent to 33 percent for Romney. (Obama is down by five points from four years ago, but Romney polls a point less than McCain.)

But will young voters show up at the polls? The same Pew poll reports: ... “the drop off in engagement is most noticeable among younger Americans. Just 48 percent of voters younger than 30 have given a lot of thought to the 2012 election, down from 65 percent at this point four years ago. The share of young people who say they are closely following election news is down by about half (from 35 percent to 18 percent).”

And how about Native American youth? Some half a million Native American young people will be eligible over the next four years.

“Our population is younger than the U.S. population, 42 percent are under the age of 24,” said Sherry Salway Black of the National Congress of American Indians in a video for “Own the Vote.” She said there are enormous barriers and challenges to engaging young Native Americans, such as the difficulties of navigating the process from a rural community.

One way to solve the problem of process is to get communities excited about this election.

“Native Youth across the nation will participate in Rock the Native Vote Youth Week to learn about and help get out the Native Vote!” says the Native Vote web site. “Participating organizations, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, youth councils, or communities may decide to host a voter registration drive or an event to register community members and raise awareness.”

Plans for the week are listed on the site in communities ranging from Juneau to Milwaukee. In addition to voter registration, there are plans for Democracy Day classes as well as new voter rallies. A Rock the Vote webinar on YouTube talks about the impact of Native vote from past elections as well as plans for expansion based on the youth vote.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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