Opinion: Are young people not voting because they don’t care — or because they don’t know how to care?
Out of every age group, youth voters, ages 18-24, have the lowest voter turnout year after year. We can’t waste the opportunity to have a voice in America
Who did you vote for in 2020?
Odds are some of you didn’t vote. Especially if you are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Young voters are notorious for low participation in elections, and as a young person myself, I polled my friends on why they do or do not follow the news and participate in politics. Overwhelmingly, those who reported not reading the news or participating in politics said it isn’t important to them, they don’t think about it or it’s too stressful.
A glance at voter stats
2020 had the highest voter turnout of the 21st century, reported by the Census Bureau, with 66.8% of American citizens participating. While presidential elections get a lot of attention, midterm elections get less, and the voter turnout is always lower on midterm years; 2018 had 53.4% participation.
But youth voter turnout, ages 18 to 24, continued its reputation for falling short in both of these elections. According to data published by Kids Count Data Center from the 2018 midterm elections, the youth voter turnout was at 32%, almost double 2014’s 17%, but still the lowest age group. In 2020, youth voter participation fell in last place at 51.4%.
The underused power of the midterms
This year is a midterm year, and midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections.
In midterms, we have opportunities to elect our local leaders as well as our state representatives to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. If we care about who our president is, we must care about who represents us in the House and the Senate, too, because that weighs heavily on how much of the president’s agenda gets passed.
As Gary Nordlinger, professor of politics at George Washington University said, “Whoever controls the House or the Senate controls the agenda.”
This midterm year is especially important because the House and Senate are in precarious positions with regards to party power. FiveThirtyEight forecasts that Republicans are likely to win over the House, but the Senate is “a 50-50 tossup.” President Joe Biden’s plans for the country will be largely impacted by how we vote in November.
The reasons to vote
The world is filled with difficult news right now, and there is no denying that it is stressful. Sometimes it can feel easier to show a lack of interest instead of putting energy into something that feels exhausting. I think many young people would care about voting if we knew how to care — or knew where to begin engaging.
I have had to learn that it’s OK to be scared, stressed or exhausted by the news. It’s OK to take breaks from politics, set boundaries about engagement and find moments to withdraw from media and tune in to self-care. But we also have the power to impact outcomes and help other people if we take the time to vote.
If politics feel too big or distant, and you lose interest in the bickering and partisan divides, bring it back home and think of real people in your life who you can help with your vote.
If you have children you care about in school — whether they are your kids, siblings, extended family or friends — you can get involved in local school board races and learn about school curriculum options or the book banning debate. You can vote for congressional leaders who want to sort through national gun legislation to protect children from school shootings.
If you see those without a home wandering the streets of your city, your vote can help elect legislators willing to seek solutions and work with experts to aid those in poverty.
If you watch the Great Salt Lake shoreline shrink farther each year and worry about a future where dust storms carrying toxins from a dried lake bed plague residents of the Salt Lake Valley, you have the power to vote for people who will act on climate change.
The effort is well spent
We can all agree that we care deeply about people. By voting for local and state legislators who support the issues important to us, we can protect the communities we care about and continue to improve our home state and the nation. Yes, it takes effort to research the issues, but what an effort well spent when we see our elected officials making positive change.
If you don’t care about politics or you struggle to know how to engage in it, start by looking at the people around you. There are people who need our help, and we can vote for those willing to do the work to help them.
Whether your candidate won or lost — or you didn’t vote at all — in 2020, the 2022 midterm elections are fast approaching, and they are an invaluable opportunity.