When the preliminary numbers came in for Pontotoc County’s Super Tuesday results, some residents were probably scratching their heads and wondering, “What happened?”
In Pontotoc County, voter turnout was down overall from 36.2% of registered voters in 2016’s Super Tuesday contest to 23.7% of registered voters in Tuesday’s primary contest.
Of all the states with presidential primaries Tuesday, only Oklahoma marked a lower voter turnout than in 2016. In some cases, the surge was nothing short of staggering; nearly twice as many people went to the polls in Virginia this year as they did four years ago, and on the Democratic side, that increase was nearly 70%.
The lackluster turnout could be attributed to a number of factors. Some people ask themselves if it’s worth taking the time to head to the polls, convinced their votes don’t count. Others suspect that, for better or for worse, President Trump is a shoo-in either way. Even some of his ardent supporters who were otherwise occupied understood they needn’t worry about him, and Democrats either weren’t happy with their choices or felt their efforts were fruitless.
One important bit of data sticks out like a sore thumb: Younger voters did not flock to the polls in the droves pundits predicted. In all Super Tuesday states, voting among young adults fell short of the mark made in 2016, when Bernie Sanders was the engine that drove youthful enthusiasm.
This year, the flame didn’t burn as brightly, so young voters don’t seem to be “feeling the Bern,” despite what they might be saying on social media. Raucous discussions and threats to boycott the general election if Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic nomination didn’t rock the vote – and at this point, it looks as if avoiding the primary could hoist Sanders’ base on its own petard. While Sanders did come out on top in some states, the more mainstream platform of former Vice President Joe Biden gave him the victory elsewhere. In other words, it’s business as usual – again.
It’s true that Sanders took California, which has more delegates than any other state, but it’s doubtful this will propel him to frontrunner status. The widespread momentum he appeared to have coming into Super Tuesday fizzled out at the last minute. That’s probably because young voters didn’t make good on their promise to support the senator from Vermont, while older Democratic voters ran for cover under the tent of the candidate they feel is most likely to defeat Trump. Conventional wisdom suggests that’s Biden.
Young adults may be frustrated by their vision of November’s general. The sea change in politics won’t happen this time, because most Democrats opted for the conservative choice. Sanders has become a victim of his own earlier successes and lack of will among supporters. This trend is disappointing, not because Sanders won’t likely get the nomination. It’s disappointing because young voters didn’t follow through on their vision that could have landed Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, in pole position.
If young people really want to change their world, they must be part of the process. That means more than talking the talk; they have to walk the walk to the voting booth. Otherwise, their voices will never be heard.