Young Religious Voters Focus on Social Justice

April 28, 2008

A new piece from The Associated Press suggests that some young voters of faith will be voting with regard to social justice issues. The piece notes the drastic diversion from the 2000 and 2004 elections, when so-called religious voters turned out in droves for President Bush.

There is "a growing number of other young, left-leaning believers are entering the political arena as campaign aides, lobbyists, grass-root activists and engaged voters. They are trying to expand the focus of faith-based politics beyond the religious right's hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage. And they are placing social justice issues, like poverty and war, at the intersection of their moral and political decision making...

"In three decades I've never seen this sort of student-youth involvement," said Jim Wallis, author of the best-seller "The Great Awakening." "I do think there's a major shift under way."

The shift of young faith-based voters both dramatic and complex. "They're leaving the Republican Party in droves, but they're not automatically Democrats," Wallis said. "They're not going to jump in the pocket of the Democratic Party the way they did with the Republican Party."

As we've seen in the past, many young people are using their traditional beliefs to extend beyond single-issue candidacies and so-called values campaigns to decide for themselves what the issue du jour is. But these newly-named social values and reborn politics are more slated for the ever-growing Independent Party or "decline to state" voters.

And according to some, that may account for the major calling from faith based voters under 30 who contribute to the success of candidates like Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee.

"The message that Barack Obama tends to have definitely appeals to people in my generation, especially people in the faith and justice movement," said Jon Gromek, a 22-year-old organizing associate at Network, a Catholic social justice group based in Washington.

Gromek, who favors Obama, majored in theology and political science and sees his faith-based social work as part of a larger generational shift. "There's a growing movement of people, especially youth, who are ready to work on these issues, whether from a political or social standpoint."

One thing is for certain, these same beliefs are affecting the non-profit organizations across the country. More social justice organizations have developed in the past several years to fight genocide and help children in war-torn areas, not to mention hundreds of domestic-based organizations.

Whether through elections or issue campaigns, giving voice to young values has brought to light issues that campaigns often times lack and I believe our country is all the better for having the dialogue.

Ally Klimkoski has been a staff in numerous races from presidential campaigns to city council races. Ally also consults and provides trainings to interest groups and activist organizations nationwide. Ally is especially interested in global human rights issues and the ever-increasing wage disparity in the U.S.