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.
I think you made so many great points in this blog. I think it’s great you touched on the fact that so many young adults actually use politics everyday, whether they know it or not. I have many colleagues from age 18 to 50 who still ask me why I care so much about politics. A lot of people don’t quite understand that politics is the way people view their world – the way they think things should work and how people should be treated.
I agree that civics lessons should be taught not only as a mandatory course in high school, but I would go as far as saying it should be a reoccurring subject throughout grade school into college. When people think that they don’t need to vote because their state heavily leans one way or another, I remind them of the 2016 elections. I wonder how many people thought Hillary was winning (in the polls at least) so there was no need to vote because she was going to become the next president. I think about how voters aged 18-29 make up 20% of the voting population but only 30% of them vote! And in 2016, that age group had the lowest turnout in decades.
Besides civics lessons and instilling the importance of voting in adolescents, what else do you think we can do to inspire young adults to vote? I feel as though we are moving into a generation that negates the “No religion or politics at the dinner table” notion. Do you think so? I also agree that Tik Tok has largely allowed people to express themselves and help give users a unique perspective on just how many political affiliations there are out there.
I think so many people who aren’t studying political science have the same view as your friend who didn’t vote because Massachusetts was already blue. People just don’t get it. They also don’t understand the questions asked on the ballot; question 2 on Massachusetts’ ballot regarding ranked choice voting is something I think everybody needs to voice their opinion on.
I agree with you that civic education should be a recurring course throughout grade school and high school; I think that would hugely increased civic participation in young adults.
As you said, the 18-29 demographic has massive potential; this can only be realized if we encourage voter engagement in teenagers and young adults. This will help in presidential elections for sure, but like you mentioned, there’s greater potential for a shift in how we approach politics in America. I don’t think my generation appreciates the formalities and red tape associated with politics. Positive change will come if the youngest generation acts on their potential.
Lastly, you’re absolutely right about the ballot; some people need to realize that the presidential election isn’t the only important item on the ballot. This is something I actually needed to tell myself when thinking about the election.
From how you organized and described your blog post, you seem very engaged and knowledgeable about our generation and younger people in general to vote even if it seems like our vote does not matter and the election is set(sort of in a way how you characterized your friend). I believe this election is very momentous for Suffolk freshman and students in general as it is the first general presidential election where our votes matter due to being old enough to cast a vote. I liked the comment about modern day social media as we spent a good chunk of class time expressing the views of Instagram and TikTok to promote a certain type of agenda due to popular content creators pushing out a certain to either vote or go along with a campaign that a candidate is being endorsed upon. As you spoke about it a little in you post, this way is unconventional due to the abstract aspect of a social media platform to almost reinforce a certain view point through a short clipped video.
Joining a group such as Suffolk Votes sounds fun to do especially in 2020 due to the increased involvement surrounding the want for change and policy reform as Generation Z has seemed persistent and motivated to push policy policy forward to the national level which is of course through voting. It sounds good to take stories from your friend and others who don’t feel confident to vote and try to discuss with them to give it a try due to close elections that has occurred in the past such as the 2016 election or the 2000 election. Even though our class all seemed register to vote, it was nice having representatives come in to give their own two cents on the subject by being these “back bones” for questions if need be which is comforting to hear. Speaking of Suffolk Votes, were there any points in contrast that you may have added/included in your presentation that was not included in the other presentation last class?
One of the statistics that I saw that you included was the 1974 one based of the high school diploma voting rate and the college grad voting rate due to the comparisons made in class where we discusses voter turnout in the twenty first century due to education. Both examples help to show that turnout is higher amongst those with higher levels of education which could also tie in a little with the difficulty our generation may face due to it being our first election we can vote at and the impact that it may cause due to just getting out of high school. Lastly, I liked how it was brought up that children under the age of eighteen are also getting impacted by this due to role models and other characters pushing out certain narratives and voices for the next wave of younger individuals to learn a little time ahead before the next election to see if the changes that we currently are preaching and speaking out for made their mark on any level of the government.
As you said, social media is massively important to the youngest generation and their political engagement. Under-18 teenagers, like you said later in your response, are also a relevant demographic here because many of them like to participate in politics on social media. This cultivates a politically-interested group of young people that will eventually be the newest voting demographic.
As for my experience in Suffolk Votes, I know the presentations earlier in the month of October were more important because less people were registered to vote at that time. The presentation I gave in early October required us to split the class into Massachusetts residents and out-of-state residents in order for us to more efficiently inform the class of how to register in their state. Otherwise, my presentations were pretty similar to the one we saw in our political science class.