In the 2016 election, it is rather likely that younger voters will continue to be the least represented age demographic at the polls. U.S. Citizens from ages 18 to 24 (known by some as the “Youth Vote”) have consistently had the lowest voting turnout out of any demographic since the year 1964 per the United States Census Bureau. In order understand why the youth turnout is so consistently low, one must understand the history of the youth vote in its most influential election.
Arguably no election was more influential for youth voters than 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president to the highest youth turnout in decades. While the youth vote certainly helped him become president, it is generally misattributed to helping him defeat his general contender, John McCain. According to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake his real success was mobilizing the youth vote in his primary victory over Clinton.
According to Pew Research Organization, Obama managed to secure 66% of the youth vote in the general election, the largest share of the youth vote the democrats have had since at least 1980. This included a large share of independent voters in the 18-29 age group at 66%. However, while Obama managed to swing the youth vote in his favor, he did not increase youth voter turnout. The same study cites NBC exit polls which show the youth vote increasing by only one percentage point from 2004 to 2008.
What could a larger youth voter turnout accomplish in this year’s election? Well for one, it would generally help Clinton more than it would Trump. Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center in August 2016 shows that out of all voters aged 18 to 29, 38% of them would vote for Clinton, and 27% of them for Trump. This might be of little surprise to most; the Democrats have long held the youth vote, but this year something unprecedented has happened. The same Pew Research Center study showed that 28% of the youth vote will be voting for 3rd party candidates, 19% for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 9% for Green party candidate Jill Stein. Per
The obvious suspects for this are both the major nominees, which if the primaries are anything to go by, did not necessarily excite youth voters. While the Republican primary didn’t necessarily have a clear victor in terms of youth vote, Democrat primary candidate Bernie Sanders was the favorite by a longshot. In fact, per a report published by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning, more youth voted for democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders than Clinton and Trump combined (in their respective primaries).
While the candidates are vastly unpopular this election, history has told us that this is a larger problem. Even in 2008, the youth voter increase over the 2004 and 2012 elections was a small one, per the Census Bureau’s report. Kerry Foxx, the director of RIT’s Leadership Institute, believes that one of the causes of consistently low youth turnout is due to their non-habituation of the voting process, stating “more you vote, the more likely you are to vote in the future.”
Kerry also suggested that there is more recognition of the impact a policy has as one gets older, stating that “when you buy a house, tax law becomes pretty important to you” and that young people have not necessarily made that level of investment in their local communities. He concluded with a point about civics classes, and how education about our government has been less of a focus in high schools recently than it has in the past, and
However, talk to some students at RIT who aren’t voting, and they might say that the largest barrier was simply registering for an absentee ballot. Students such as Aidan McInerny and Rocky Quinn are out of state students who are not voting due to just that. When asked how this could be prevented in the future, Aidan said “it would be great if applying online was something that you could do at any time, up until the day of the election”, with Rocky stating that information on how to vote should be more readily available to students.
The youth vote has always been an enigmatic one to many pollsters and political activist groups, and after reading all this information, one might start to see why. It is the result of a multitude of issues, ranging from lack of engagement in schools, to the accessibility of voting for a generation raised by technology. The 2016 election already is in its twilight, reaching the end of a grueling two years of negative campaigning. When looking towards the 2020 election, and asking how we can improve youth turnout in the future, one mustn’t ask what we need to do, but where we need to start.