The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Pundits flooded the airwaves with explanation after explanation for Mitt Romney’s loss. Hurricane Sandy and the liberal media conspired to take over the news cycle. Chris Christie betrayed his GOP brethren by chumming with the president. Fact-checkers have a Democratic bias. Karl Rove even blamed voter suppression efforts for Romney’s close yet definitive electoral loss.

But through all of the collective airing of the Republican Party’s angst, one theory continues to elude the party theorizing: the power of the youth vote.

Contrary to months of expectations and gloomy polls predicting that young people were less politically engaged this cycle compared to 2008, we turned out in strong numbers on Election Day.

Mitt Romney lost our votes by a 24-point margin. And in the key swing-states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania, losing our votes cost Romney the White House. According to analysis compiled by CIRCLE, a research group based out of Tufts University, Romney could have picked up all of the states had young people either supported him along a 50-50 margin or even if we had simply stayed home.

The point I want to make is nonpartisan though — Generation Y is no longer just a ragtag assortment of Facebook followers. We are a critical voting bloc who is engaged and willing to exercise its collective voice.

Young people made up a greater percentage of those voting in 2012 than we did in 2008. And frankly, four years ago, political participation was easier. Casting a ballot for the first black president felt momentous. It endowed young people with a visceral sense of their own agency. This election was messier. It involved the grit and bitterness that comes with a stagnant political situation. And yet, we still turned out.

CIRCLE predicts that the final youth turnout will be around 50 percent, a level commiserate with the much-remarked youth participation in 2008. In contrast youth turnout throughout the 1990s hovered in the mid-30s.

Taken together, our votes have determined who will be in the Oval Office for the next four years. Even more importantly, we have demonstrated to both parties that they can ignore our interests to their own political detriment. I cannot pretend that the youth represent this cohesive and unified front on all issues. But we do face a unique set of challenges, standing as we do at the edge of the yawning expanse we will traverse over our adult lives.

Our civic responsibility begins with voting, but simply connecting to the political system once every four years to darken a couple of circles won’t make much of a dent. We must live politically, not don the civic mantle for the day and then tack it to our wall as a trophy.

Instead, we should endeavor to aim ourselves and our work at the possibility of a better world, to question whether the limits we face are necessary ones or if we can and should change them, to think of our actions in their full context as opposed to as limited transactions with concrete ends.

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