For those of us who listen to talk radio, we hear the expression a lot. It's someone who listens to the program for a long time, but has never called in to make their opinions felt. Yet this is not a phenomenon exclusive to sports talk radio. I've been following politics for as long as I can remember, but just cast a vote for the first time.
As my name suggests, I'm a freshman at Penn State. How interested in politics am I? Part of the reason I selected Penn State was so that I could vote in what was sure to be a swing state. At the time, I wasn't sure who I was going to vote for, or who the candidates would be, but I wanted to make sure that my vote would matter.
It ended up that Pennsylvania wasn't even close. Centre County, where Penn State is located, voted Democratic this year, and by a fairly large, 11% margin. Normally, you wouldn't think much of this. The college has 40,000 potential voters, and college students and faculty are well-known for being overwhelmingly liberal. Yet, Centre County was red, having voted for George W. Bush in both 2004 and in 2000. What turned the county, and the nation, so bright blue?
It was us first-time voters. Consider this: the population of Centre County has actually gone down in the past 8 years, yet more than 50% as many people voted in 2008 than in 2000. In 2000, less than 50,000 Centre County residents cast a ballot. In 2008, 74,949 did. And us first-time voters came out big time for Barack Obama.
An ABC exit poll showed first-time voters supporting Barack Obama by a huge margin, an almost 70/30 split. This can be attributed to a few things. First, Barack Obama's tremendous fund-raising efforts allowed for massive Get Out The Vote efforts, and ensured that his base, especially college students, voted. I can't tell you how many people there were telling us, in the weeks and days preceding the election, how important our vote was. These weren't necessarily even pro-Obama or pro-McCain rallies. They were "vote" rallies.
Obviously, people like me, who weren't of age in 2000 or 2004 make up a large percentage of first-time voters, and us young voters are a largely democratic bloc. But the other first-time voter is someone who never felt that their vote was important. They either felt that their vote didn't matter, and frankly, most of them were right. Let's face it, unless you lived in New Hampshire of Florida in 2000, or in Ohio in 2004, your vote wasn't a particularly important one in deciding the outcome. It's pretty ironic, then, that in the biggest blowout in more than a decade, these voters came out in droves.
The other reason that people don't vote is that they just don't care. Let's face, it, not all Americans are as actively involved in the electoral process as we here at DailyKos are. They don't watch the debates, they don't know the candidates, and they don't really see how their vote will directly effect their lives.
But in these past four years, it's become virtually impossible for people to be apathetic about the election. They've seen the Bush administration bastardize the Constitution, stand idly by as Katrina ravaged New Orleans and her citizens, and fail to act as a struggling economy hurt Americans where it hurts us most: in our wallets.
Barack Obama's message of change connected with a lot of voters. Bush's dissaproval is at 76% according to CNN, and 83% of Americans see our government as failing. Obama's promise of change didn't resonate on its own, it needed a wildly unpopular incumbent to compare John McCain to. That's not to say Barack Obama wasn't a phenomenal candidate who ran a nearly flawless campaign, but his success was as much an embrace of Democratic values as it was a rejection of Bush.
First-time voters are a good barometer of the populations shifting political views. If an incumbent is popular, people will come out to support him, but if he is hated, as President Bush is, first-time voters will support his opponent, because they have been negatively impacted by his reign.
If the country continues it's downward slide, Democrats have zero excuse. In 2006 and 2008, they made great gains because of the unpopularity of the Republican leadership. If they are going to continue to gain seats in the House and Senate, and control the presidency beyond these next four years, they're going to need to do it with great leadership, prosperity, and progression.
In addition to being a first time voter, I'm also a first-time diarist, so let me know how I'm doing. Thanks.