By Dylan Murray
Voting has become a major talking point during this election year. Whether it is brought up by mainstream news outlets, celebrities posting on their social media, or through the ad campaigns of entire professional sports organizations, most Americans, if not all, have been bombarded with PSA’s that discuss the importance of voting and the issues that arise from it.
This should come as no surprise; we live in a democracy, and in order for a democracy to function properly we need the largest percentage of citizens that are eligible to vote to do so. Ideally, when more people vote, the representatives who are elected end up representing America’s actual body politic. This, in turn, leads to policy which the majority of voters support.
However, there is one demographic that historically fails to show up to the polls: voters aged 18 to 29. Most Americans that fall within this category are going to school, or just beginning their careers, but more importantly they are the future of our country.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, national voter turnout for people aged 18 to 29 was 35.6 percent of eligible voters during the 2018 midterm election. For Worcester State, the percentage of students registered to vote that actually made it to the polls in 2018 was 57.1 percent. Far above the national average, but still fewer than 6 in 10. Only slightly higher than half of potential student voters here at WSU. And, even though this was an increase from the 2014 election, it still falls far short of every other age demographic. For example, voters aged 65 and older led voting turnout in 2018 with 66.1 percent of eligible voters showing up to the polls. If you are a part of the 18 to 29 year old demographic, this should leave a bad taste in your mouth, because it means that the issues people aged 65 and over care about are the issues which candidates actually pay attention to, since they are the majority of voters who actually show up to cast a ballot.
The Campus Vote project in particular has attempted to create a network of campuses across America that put student voting in the spotlight. They help with addressing questions student voters may have, and creating student voting guides to assist students with navigating the complex world of modern day voting.
On the other hand, the Knight Foundation has worked specifically on researching what is important to student voters and what is keeping them from voting. Their research tries to highlight specific issues that student voters have with the 2020 election in particular. Recently the Knight Foundation released their study titled “The 100 Million Project”, where they break down what student voters care about, what their views on the election process are, and where the demographic of student voters differs in terms of race, gender, political affiliation, and economic status. What this study found is that “At a time of unprecedented polarization, students appear to recognize the limits of national elections to make progress on the issues they care about. College students place greater faith in local efforts to bring about change even if their tendency to participate in local elections lags behind participation in national elections.”
While it is good that student voters are focused on pushing forward local efforts for the change they want to make, it still doesn’t go far enough. Student voters need to be able to put their efforts into these local initiatives while at the same time actually showing up to cast a ballot.
I was able to sit down with my youngest brother, Braden Murray, a current freshman at the University of Rhode Island, and discuss what his take on youth voting is.
“I believe that voting is something every American citizen should take seriously, and that includes young people. How seriously each person takes the duty of voting is entirely up to them, but personally I feel less engaged politically than I thought I would be after the 2016 election.” Murray goes on to state, “overall young Americans should take voting seriously, and become familiar with the political process, because they are the ones who have the power and time to shape the future.”
It’s interesting that my brother felt “less engaged politically” this election year than in the past, and while he is only one voice out of millions, it still shows that younger people can be potentially overwhelmed by the drastic polarization we see in current American politics. But, instead of being dissuaded from voting, younger people should recognize that their voices are needed now more than ever.
Each and every vote that is cast matters, and it is disheartening to see, historically, so few students and young people actually show up to vote, because young people do care about the future of this country, they just need to start putting their ballot where their mouths are.