Why Aren’t Young People Voting?

Voting ballot
Voting ballot (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)

As America’s political climate continues to heat up, I’d like to scale back a few notches and talk about something of dire importance: voting. In every election, no matter how small.

In the 2016 presidential election, social media posts, signs and television ads urging everyone to “get out the vote” for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were pretty much everywhere you looked. However, even with all of this pressure, voting was still at a 20-year low. According to CNN Politics, “the 126 million votes already counted [during the 2016 presidential election] means about 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots this year. That measure of turnout is the lowest in a presidential election since 1996, when 53.5% of voting-age citizens turned out… but it would take another 18.7 million votes to reach the high point for turnout of 2008, when nearly 64% of voting age citizens cast a ballot.”

Furthermore, the United States Census Bureau reports, “Voting rates have also historically varied according to age, with older Americans generally voting at higher rates than younger Americans. In 2016, this was once again the case, as citizens 65 years and older reported higher turnout (70.9 percent) than 45- to 64-year-olds (66.6 percent), 30- to 44-year-olds (58.7 percent) and 18- to 29-year-olds (46.1 percent).” This is illustrated in the graphic below.

(United States Census Bureau)

I am not sure if at 18 I am either a millennial or apart of the “entitlement generation” or “Generation Z,” but I do know that my fellow students and I have something in common. We are a generation of temporary satisfaction. I cannot tell you how many times we have decided to Sparknote the chapter opposed to actually reading it. To be fair, we could have been busy… but more likely than not. We were probably watching Netflix and failed to realize that our Shakespeare quiz was the next day. So, we Sparknote, Shmoop and Cliffnote to temporarily understand the reading as opposed to actually reading. For clarification, I am no angel when it comes to this claim. I have done it, as have many students my age. However, this problem of “temporary satisfaction” can be directly linked to our low turn out in voting.

Very few kids in my age group actually studied the candidates. They voted on the three things people typically vote on.

First, party loyalty, or what I like to call (for my age group) parental loyalty. They voted for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson or Dr. Jill Stein because their parents did, and their parents have the best interest. Along with this, some kids did not dare rebel against their parent’s party—especially if their parents were writing their tuition checks. This is obviously problematic because it does not force our minds to actually think for themselves. So many times throughout the election, I attempted to enlighten my peers on the actual, unbiased and proven policy plans they were voting for, only for their response to be, “well, my parents didn’t tell me they stood for that… I would’ve voted differently if I had known beforehand.” Research on the candidates is so important. Stop listening to your parents and begin to read fully and thoroughly for yourself as a voter.

Secondly, specific issues. I heard this one a little too much for comfort. “I only voted for them because of their stance on _____.” or “They support _______, and that’s a deal breaker for me.” I understand the unwillingness to want to compromise on an issue. Trust me, I do. However, you are telling me that you wholeheartedly like or dislike the candidate because of their stance on ONE issue? And that one issue is what made them give your vote to them? Young people, we hold so much power in voting. We are going to be ancestors one day, I suggest making sure your voting history is reflecting that of a bigger picture, not a single issue. At some point, a compromise is necessary.

Lastly, candidate characteristics. We are typically judging with our eyes rather than our brains, this is human nature. For example, I constantly heard complaints about physical and auditorial characteristics of the candidates. “Hillary Clinton has SUCH an annoying voice, I couldn’t have that as the voice of the country, so I voted for _______.” And infamously, “He looks like a Cheeto. I couldn’t vote for that. Whoever is running the country should be somewhat attractive.” Yes, I actually heard both of these complaints regarding then-candidate Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. News flash, there will rarely be a candidate that you do not find a physical flaw with. They, just like us voters, are actual human beings.

Candidates lost votes for all of these reasons when, in my opinion, several of them could have been looked over. Such a low voter turnout amongst eligible voters makes our country look ignorant. The only thing worse than being assumed as an uneducated group of individuals is accepting it. The age of “clicktivism” my generation has created has its positives, but think about how much more effective it would be if we were using it to spread awareness about voting, or actually getting people out to the polls and providing clear and truthful candidate information so we are informed as voters.

I believe that once the importance of educated voting/voters is spread far and wide, people will begin to vote more with their brain in a “country first” mindset, and less with their parent’s party, one specific issue, and petty physical characteristics. With this being said, it is up to us to take action. If you are between the ages of 18 and 29, make sure you are registered to vote, find what candidates are running and for what offices, see if their policies and beliefs align with yours. And last but not least, vote!

4 Comments

  1. I have encountered a lot of people like the ones you described. Also, I think the numbers regarding the amount of youth that voted from the Census Bureau were only that high because of the presidential election. I can’t imagine how much lower they are going to be during the midterms in 2018 or any other local elections that don’t fall on the same day as a presidential election.

    • I agree. They will probably be much lower. My mission for 2018 is to get young people more energized in local elections. We hold so much power in the power of voting.

  2. Good article! Simply put, I feel our generation just doesn’t really care about these types of current events as much as older generations. We’d rather keep up with our NFL fantasy team or the next episode of Rick & Morty before we keep up on the world around us. Not to say you can’t have hobbies outside of discussing politics, but our generation should try to enter the table knowing what we’re talking about rather than shaping our opinions based on 15-second soundbites we heard on our social media feed.

    • I agree! Politics, in my opinion, should be less of this ending friendships style banter. We should be educated and informed on our own opinions and stances to be able to have a civil dinner discussion with each other about them.

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