Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Boxers or briefs? First-time voters in LA care about tougher issues than underwear

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One in four people eligible to vote in the Nov. 6 election is younger than 30. Kristy Plaza is one of them. The 18-year old says she's waited two years to vote for the first time. She can’t stop smiling.

“I am voting. I better be in a coma to NOT vote!" she insists. 

Plaza grew up in Duarte. She used to run voter registration campaigns on her high school campus even before she could vote. She got hooked after seeing a presentation at the L.A. Convention Center by the nonprofit Rock the Vote.

“It was all about being empowered to vote and I never really heard that before," Plaza says. " I mean, I grew up with my parents saying, ‘Oh, we don’t need to vote. It’s not that important,' or 'It doesn’t make a difference anyways.' "

Heather Smith of Rock the Vote says young people’s votes do make a difference. She told KPCC’s Take Two that “millennials” could be the deciding factor in this election.

“It’s a really unique generation, actually," Smith says. " They’re huge in number. There’s about 46 million of them who are eligible to vote this year which means that they’re one in four eligible voters in our country.” 

Smith says 17 million of those youths have turned 18 since the last Presidential election. Rock the Vote has reached out to educate voters in their teens and twenties for more than two decades. The nonprofit used to work regularly with MTV on town-hall style broadcasts. Rewind to a Rock the Vote event on MTV in 1994 when a young woman asked President Bill Clinton a pretty personal question:

MTV Shows

Rock the Vote says it still partners with MTV, but now most of its efforts are online or on the ground at music festivals, concerts and sporting events. Rock the Vote finds young people today are worried about tougher issues than underwear.

Kristy Plaza, for instance, cares about immigration.

“Well, I’m Mexican-American and I’m a proud Latina — very proud," she says. "Without getting too much into detail, my parents are legal citizens, but a lot of my other family in Mexico would love to get a visa and live here and work here.” 

Plaza says she likes that President Obama supports the DREAM Act, and she likes the way he presents himself.

Momo Matsuda says she likes Obama, too. She’s 20, a lesbian, grew up in Berkeley and goes to school at Occidental College.

"As a queer, female student, Obama really, I think, has me in mind with his policies," Matsuda says. 

But other first-time voters are on board with Mitt Romney — like 19-year-old Tom Stivers of Pebble Beach.

“I mean, I’d like the economy to be good by the time I get out of schooling, which isn’t for a long time because I plan on going to med school," Stivers says. "But I think [after] four years, it should have started to show improvement and it hasn’t. So I think it’s time to change it up and see if we can get more improvement out of Romney.” 

Conservative views from a 19-year-old aren't all that unusual. Recent polling by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that 42 percent of 18-and-19-year-olds identified themselves as “conservative,” while only a third said they were “liberal.” But among young people in their early 20s, the numbers flipped.

Liberal or conservative, Kristy Plaza — the energetic first-time voter from Duarte — says she’s getting the word out however way she can to get her peers to vote. She’s been writing articles and starting conversations at USC, where she’s a freshman studying broadcast journalism.

Plaza says she's asking herself basic questions about the presidential candidates: "Which one is better for me? Who’s going to take this country in the direction that I would be proud and happy to live here? That’s how I make my decisions.” 

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