Who is voting in the 2020 presidential election? Will voter norms continue this year, or will things change? In this blog post, I talk about my experience with politics as a college student and how the youngest voting generation is approaching the 2020 US presidential election.
As an 18-year-old college student at Suffolk University, I feel strongly that for my first election, I must engage in the political community. Beginning this fall semester, I joined Suffolk Votes. Suffolk Votes is a campus organization that helps spread awareness of voter engagement in our community. Because of the presidential election right around the corner, Suffolk Votes outreach is particularly important this year. In early October, I officially started my time as a SV Ambassador by giving my first of two class raps. A class rap is a presentation about voting; we cover how to register, how to decide where you are voting, etc. My partner and I reached out to professors who were willing to have us give our presentation during their class time. We gave our speech, showed the slideshow presentation, and walked the students through the voting registration process online. My overall experience as a Suffolk Votes Ambassador has been fulfilling so far, and I am excited for more opportunities like this one.
One of the reasons why I felt so strongly about engaging in the civic community on campus has been the conversations that I’ve had with my friends and classmates. One of my close friends on campus, who identifies as a Democrat, and I were talking about the upcoming election. I told him that I had recently registered to vote here in Boston as opposed to in my hometown. All I had heard on campus at that point was the enthusiastic and repetitive sentiment, “Register to vote! Register to vote!”, so I was quite surprised when he told me point blank that he, in all likelihood, would not be voting this November. He said something akin to the following: “I’m not enthusiastic about any of the candidates, and regardless of who I would want to vote for, Massachusetts is such a blue state that it wouldn’t matter either way”. I don’t believe our discussion of this topic went much further than that, but his statements certainly got me thinking about how people approach voting in America. Since this conversation, I’ve urged him to at least register, and to give some thought to the candidates he found most reasonable. Our conversation together played a large part in me seeing that it’s necessary to engage in the political community on campus. But why do some (perhaps, unfortunately, many) young people feel this way in the first place? What leads new voters in America to have these distrusting, unenthusiastic thoughts on voting? The answer, I believe, lies in the civic education of young people, particularly during high school years.
There is an observable trend of college graduates voting at higher rates than high school graduates in the United States: “In 1974, 50 percent of those who expected to attain a high school diploma or less voted, compared with 72 percent of those who expected to be college graduates.” This trend continues to this day, and shows that there is a lack of civic education and encouragement in high schools compared to in colleges. My own experience speaks to this too. Voting was never talked about much in my high school; politics was a touchy subject I suppose. My first semester of college, though, has been full of opportunities to engage in civic events, listen to political debates, and learn how to register to vote. This openness on college campuses clearly affects voter participation in elections; perhaps high schools could learn a thing or two from this. I’m not saying this kind of education should be only limited to 18-year-old high school seniors who can vote, either. Civic education should start from a young age to cultivate an atmosphere of civic responsibility among the American youth. And considering our democracy is at risk of weakening, I’d say investing attention and resources into the next generation is our best bet.
Outside of the classroom, what role do politics play in the lives of young adults? Are young people as dedicated to important societal issues as older generations are, and do they involve themselves in their community as much? The reality is, younger people (including those under 18) engage in political discourse in unconventional ways. Social media and the internet in general play a primary role in political discussion amongst young people. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have become major places where adolescents express themselves politically and ideologically. Political sub-communities and cultures have emerged on the internet as well, which is certainly to be expected. In spite of all of the differences between political outreach old and new, the presence of messages and campaigns targeted at specific groups of people remains constant. “In addition to labor market integration, civic engagement can be seen as crucial for young people’s societal integration” says Herman G. van de Werfhorst, a professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam. The importance of civic engagement is universal, certainly, and should not be overlooked in our democracy. And though it perhaps may seem foolish from the outside, social media platforms may be the best way to spread political awareness to the youngest generation.
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that my generation is more hesitant to identify strongly with any political party. You’d much sooner find those with strong opinions regarding certain moral issues or societal questions, rather than regarding a particular party. This kind of open-mindedness is certainly needed in American political discourse, and I hope that my generation is recognized for our potential. For all of these reasons, I maintain that increased civic education in schools and increased political outreach on social media platforms are the best ways to engage young people in politics. This will only ensure that there will be a robust and diverse base of political participants for decades to come in America; something that is surely needed.