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Why don’t young adults vote?

| Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Voting is, in my opinion, the most important way people can engage in the democratic process. Many groups of people in this country were willing to fight courageously through oppression and intimidation to gain equal access to this American right. The history behind the vote in this country from its founding until the present day is a rich one. With all this being said, why is it that only 50-60% of voting-age Americans vote?

To further illustrate this lack of voter turnout: 18-29 year-olds, the voting-eligible college student population, is the least active age group in terms of engaging in the voting process. Only 48.3% of college students are said to have turned out in 2016. With political votes having an impact on the future of this nation, including relevant issues such as education, environmental issues and other aspects of daily life, why is it that more than half of the youngest generation of people eligible to vote in this country are content with not exercising their right? After all, voting means having a say in shaping our future. Do the candidates not represent them?

Research seems to support the idea that young people simply do not prioritize voting mainly because it may be too inconvenient, or they just aren’t interested. There are ways to make voting easier and more efficient, such as simplifying the registration process (automatic or same-day registration) or even making voting day a national holiday. But it is hard to make these changes in the first place without voting in the current system for officials that believe in these ideas.

In the meantime, what can be done to change this attitude toward voting in elections? Voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs on campus that target increasing young voter turnout are no doubt helpful in the short-term. Long-term, however, the attitude toward voting needs to change if young people want representatives in political offices that have their best interest and the interest of their future in mind.

This attitude change is easier said than done. Young people need to be inspired that their voice matters when it comes to voting, but it may take the right candidate, timing or issue to bring this about. And when they are inspired, how can this energy be sustained in terms of permanently increasing voting numbers among young adults. While social media may increase political engagement, even this may not be enough as trends take over current trends and headlines replace current headlines in a cycle of information feeding seemingly short attention spans.

One way of improving the engagement of young people long-term could be the integration of the political process and voting information into high school education. This would produce upcoming generations of informed young people who become eligible to vote right around their high school graduation, who can go out and immediately have an impact. This may be too optimistic, but these people may even influence their family at home to also see the value in voting. Proper education in this area can be extremely beneficial in terms of creating better, more engaged citizens and a political system that truly represents them.

How will voter turnout look in 2020? Looking at engagement in current social justice movements in-person and on social media, as well as the current global pandemic crisis, social and political issues are at the forefront in 2020, and the upcoming election is shaping up to be one of the biggest, most involved elections in recent history.

Some additional optimism in terms of increased voting engagement may be derived from the midterm elections of 2018, as the voting rate among college students doubled from 2014: up to around 40%. It remains to be seen if the increased political tension and engagement over the last couple of years will translate into increased voting turnout, but even if it does, people — especially young people — need to sustain this inspiration into future elections to secure their future.

Where do Notre Dame students stand? According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, around 37.1% of students voted in the 2018 midterms. This could be better, but is still not far from national numbers. To take the next step and become more engaged in society, Notre Dame students should hold each other accountable for voting, even if not directly, by fostering appropriate conversations with friends and classmates about political issues.

This can help continue to push voting to be wider practiced as students become increasingly politically engaged through conversations and exchanges of ideas. This will create a more conscious campus, and a student body compelled to vote in a way they feel represents them and betters society.

Justice Mory is majoring in Business Analytics and is part of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. He is from Southern California and now lives in Duncan Hall. His main goal is to keep learning and to continue to become more informed. He can be reached at [email protected] or @JmoryND on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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