Surprise, Fox News Gets Voting All Wrong

by Lauren Barbato

Voter turnout among Americans under 30 fell by six points since the historic youth-led 2008 election, and recent polls predict a more drastic drop in the upcoming midterm elections. For most people, the disillusionment among millennials is worrying; for Fox News, it's worth celebrating. During the Wednesday broadcast of "Outnumbered," Fox News hosts said millenials shouldn't vote in November, especially if they don't "know" the issues. Why encourage voter engagement when it's much easier to tell people to stay home on Nov. 4, right?

So, here's what happened: While discussing millennial voters and their current antipathy over American politics, hosts Lisa Kennedy Montgomery and Harris Faulkner put out the idea that people under 30 — who are likely more Internet-savvy than their fellow, older citizens — are just too uninformed to vote. But they're not just uninformed, according to Fox News. It's evidently incredibly hard, possibly borderline impossible, to educate young people about current political issues and agendas.

"Do we want them [millennials] to vote if they don't know the issues?"Faulkner asked on Wednesday's show. Montgomery emphatically replied, "No! You absolutely don't."

Faulkner continued: "Do you really want to motivate them to vote and be ignorant at the polls?"

The Fox News verdict: Voter engagement activists, stop wasting your breath and campaign materials on recent college graduates. You can watch the video at Media Matters here.

Now, for reality: The millennial vote has been a sort of wild card for politicians, particularly over the last four presidential elections. According to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the youth vote (people under 30) steadily rose between 2000 and 2008 — from 40 percent to 51 percent, respectively. However, after reaching its peak in 2008, youth voter turnout dropped to 45 percent in 2012, indicating, to some, that millennials were less enthused about politics than they were during President Barack Obama's initial campaign run.

Midterm elections — where youth voter turnout has historically been minimal — are a whole different voting bloc altogether. NPR reports that the Harvard Institute of Politics predicts only 23 percent of young voters will cast their ballots this November. That pitiful number is a slightly lower than the 2010 midterm elections, when about a quarter of youth voters turned out.

These low numbers are nothing to panic about, because low youth turnout at midterm elections is hardly a new development. The aforementioned percentages are consistent with other midterm elections in this century, with 2006 seeing 25.5 percent of young voters, and 2002 attracting a measly 22.5 percent.

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images News/Getty Images

What we should be talking about is why millennials don't vote when, contrary to Fox News, they are well-informed about contemporary political issues. As a 20-year-old college student recently told NPR:

I can pull up Facebook in front of me and see five different articles about the next Senate race, and that's something that I know my mom's generation never had.

Despite knowing about the big races, the big cases, and the big ideas, young voters still aren't making it to the voting booths. Some chalk this up to apathy or youthful hopelessness — once seen as the voting bloc of idealism, young voters seem more discontent with the political system than the stereotypical cynical old folks. Did that idealism shrink away when the job market crashed, or get buried around mountains of student loan debt?

I wouldn't discount the millennial vote just yet. Even though youth voter turnout dropped to 45 percent in 2012 — which was still higher than the 2000 election — the young voter gap arguably made that election (along with the historical gender gap). Voters under 30 picked Obama over challenger Mitt Romney by 60 percent to 37 percent, marking a 23-point margin. When young voters turn out for an election, they tend to vote Democratic — a fact that Fox News hosts know and bury under subtext.

The youth vote can be dangerous. It can be powerful. It can be a game-changer — if we use it.

Images: Getty Images (2), Fox