In less than 40 days, Americans will elect the next President of the United States. However, if past presidential elections are any indication, roughly 42 to 46 percent of eligible voters will not show up to vote on Election Day. Pew Research Center conducted a poll in 2012 showing that only 129.1 million of 241 million eligible voters cast their ballots when President Obama was re-elected, and the numbers have not varied significantly within the past 50 years, nor are they expected to change this election.
Comparatively, approximately 54 to 58 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote (i.e. 18 and up, not convicted of a felony, etc.) will elect the next President of the United States.
Only 38 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast their ballots in 2012, according to census data. This group of voters, known as “Millennials” or “Generation Y,” has the lowest voter turnout among all age groups, including Generation X, Baby Boomers, and The Silent Generation. Even so, low voter turnout is not a rare phenomenon for young voters who, in 1964, peaked at 51 percent in voter participation.
When asked why young people have such an abysmal voting record, Jack Warren ’20 spoke to a perceived futility in voting.
“They feel like their vote doesn’t matter,” Warren said. “The electoral system is incredibly flawed…It’s very difficult to feel like your vote matters when you know that, no matter if you vote or not, your state’s going blue.”
Oftentimes, the presidential election comes down to certain swing states like Florida and Ohio. For Warren, one vote may not decide the election, but each vote is important, especially if more and more people don’t vote.
“If everyone adopted that mindset of ‘my vote doesn’t matter,’ then that wouldn’t be true,” he said.
Co-Chair of the Wesleyan Democrats Simon Korn ’17 contends a similar argument.
“Even if you don’t personally affect the outcome of the presidential election, or any election…you still should vote,” he said. “People who run for office spend lots of time and lots of money figuring out who votes, why they vote, and how best to represent you….If we as Millennials consistently vote in elections large and small, presidential, local, and state….People who run for office will take notice of that, and they will care about our interests.”
In the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama received 67 percent of the youth vote, compared with Romney’s 30 percent, according to a study by Politico. In a study released days after President Obama secured his re-election, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University concluded the following:
“If Governor Romney had won half of the youth vote, or if young voters had stayed home entirely, then Romney would have won instead of Obama.”
Though the data itself includes figures from swing states like Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, it nevertheless articulates the influence the youth vote can have on presidential elections. Despite nearly 54 percent of the millennial voter population not voting in the 2012 presidential election, the percentage that did vote guaranteed Obama another four years in office.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recognize how integral the youth vote is to the success of their individual campaigns. This is especially evident when comparing Clinton’s agenda before and after winning the Democratic nomination; she absorbed much of Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric on the economy and education, hoping to reproduce the enthusiasm millennials felt toward Sanders during his campaign. In fact, according to census data the the Pew Research center has analyzed, millennials are now a bigger voting force than any other generation, including the Baby Boomers. This means millennials could likely sway the vote in either Clinton or Trump’s favor.
If those two options are unsatisfactory, Kati Young ’19 has an alternative.
“This is an election where third-party candidates have had the strongest backing they’ve had in a long time, so if you’re interested in stopping the two-party system, then this might be a great opportunity,” she said.
Young developed on the potentially monumental effect the youth vote can have on the presidential election.
“Too many people have sacrificed to give me the privilege to vote for me not to vote,” she said.
Young references, among other things, the fight for women’s suffrage, which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, but her statement encompasses all groups whose voices, at one point or another, were silenced as a result of unjust laws, discrimination, and prejudice.
Local and state elections, though often overlooked, play an equally important role in civic engagement.
In an article written in The Washington Post on May 9, 2013, it was revealed that “Congressional approval averaged 15 percent, the lowest in nearly four decades of Gallup polling. And yet, 90 percent of House Members and 91 percent of Senators who sought re-election won last November. By 2014, the incumbency rate increased, while Congress’ approval rating decreased. This correlates with an article released by The Washington Post on Nov. 10, 2014 presenting statistics that showed “voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest it’s been in any election cycle since World War II.”
Furthermore, outside the United States, in countries where leaders are not elected by the populace or where it is dangerous to vote, people are risking their lives to procure and uphold their right to vote. In the 2014 Afghanistan presidential election, approximately 7 million people voted despite recent attacks “carried out by Taliban militants,” including one on “the Afghanistan’s election commission headquarters,” according to a report by The Washington Post.
Nonetheless, some argue that it is too difficult to register to vote, or that the process of filling out an absentee ballot is confusing and tedious. College students, who make up a large majority of the youth population, struggle to find time to register to vote in between classes and extracurricular activities. The requirements for filling out an absentee ballot vary from state to state, so it can be challenging to find information on a college campus pertaining specifically to one’s home state.
Fortunately, Wesleyan offers ample resources to make the process as simple as possible. On the Wesleyan Office of the Registrar webpage, students can find under “General Information” links to information about registering to vote in the state of Connecticut, filling out an absentee ballot, and checking your voter registration status.
If the information on the webpage is insufficient, Korn disclosed that the Wesleyan Democrats, in addition to collaborating with the Wesleyan Republicans on voter registration events both prior to and on Election Day, have found a possible solution to the anxiety that accompanies the absentee voting application process.
“We’re going to have people in Usdan telling students how to vote in their home state,” Korn said. “People are going to come up to us, and we’re going to help them out individually one by one. That’s the only way to do it.”
If none of that works, Korn strongly suggests turning toward the Internet.
“Just Google ‘How to vote absentee in my state,’” Korn said. “What’s more, once you type ‘How to vote in my state’ in the search bar, Google automatically provides a template of information with step-by-step instructions explaining how to vote absentee. The same goes for when you type in ‘How to register to vote.’”
Or, eligible voters can go to http://www.canivote.org/ and select their state, and the webpage leads directly to the state’s voter registration site where citizens can learn about deadlines and necessary documentation.
“When it comes down to it, people have to make the decision on their own to vote and who to vote for,” Korn said.