Focus on solutions was key to young voters in U.S. Senate race

“Power to the people” has transformed into “power to the young people”

The impact of young voters in the 2012 presidential election was powerful enough to define the results. With Kentucky’s next big national election coming up for the U.S. Senate, it’s time to look back on lessons learned from the presidential race on what engages young voters and brings them out to the polls.

Students in the Honors Program at the University of Kentucky followed the presidential election to discover the issues that matter to young voters and how the media can improve to encourage youth voting.

Research began with an evaluation of civic involvement on the University of Kentucky’s campus. Contrary to what Harvard Professor Robert Putnam might predict, UK was not “bowling alone”—the campus boomed with active involvement, demonstrated in the holding of Constitution Day, where large numbers of students came out to immerse themselves in the day centered on our nation’s great document.

Studies on the young voter in recent years reflected the views of Putnam, believing that the young voters of today are far less engaged than their predecessors. Other civic life scholars, like Michael Schudson, believe that we have just turned to a different type of citizen—a more passively involved citizen. Schudson’s ideas appear to be held true, at least on UK’s campus.

Kentucky hall of fame journalist Al Cross told students at Constitution Day, “Your big chance? This is also your big choice.” The choices made in the 2012 elections and the choice that will be made in the Senate elections, especially the choice made by the young voters, have the potential to change our country.

The 2012 presidential election exemplified the power of the young voters. A study done by the Pew Research Center showed that the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia would have gone for Governor Romney if the voting age was thirty instead of eighteen. For example, Ohio broke at 50 percent Obama and 48 percent Romney, but Obama’s slim win was carried by the youth vote, which was 62 percent Obama and only 35 percent Romney. The statistical implications of the study prove the power of the young vote.

The U.S. Senate elections are approaching, and the question remains of how this new information will be used by journalists, political consultants and candidates to reach their target audience that holds so much power to sway the results of an election—the young voters. The UK research study evaluated front-page headlines of three local papers, The Kentucky Kernel, The Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier Journal, and five national papers during the presidential election. The result? Overall dissatisfaction with the conflict-centered approach to coverage of the election. Young voters indicate that they would prefer more engaging, solution-centered information to involve themselves.

With so much power being held by the age group, it is no wonder  candidates focus attention toward getting the young vote. With young voters vocalizing their opinions on the current media, it is likely that there will be a significant change in coverage of the U.S. Senate elections. Preference among the young is enough to give any candidate hope for victory. Power seems to be held less by just “the people” and more by “the young people.”

Amanda Jacob is an animal science freshman. Email