A (Youth) Voting Issue

Image: Brookings Institution

Image: Brookings Institution

 Last fall, youth voted in historic amounts after an incredible year of activism and upset, with official numbers showing around one in three teens going to the polls, breaking records for voter participation.  But with the upcoming 2020 Presidential election coming nearer by the day, questions are rising about whether the trend will continue.  So, as the far-off date looms closer, a question remains: what motivates teen voters?

Image Source: Priceonomics

Image Source: Priceonomics

      Surprisingly, politics have combined with the nonstop stream of digital media to a point which the two can be at times nearly indistinguishable., This has had an unexpected impact. A 2018 report from the Pew Research Center revealed that around two-thirds of Americans get their news on social media, with the main platform reportedly being Reddit, and Facebook a close second.  Primary debates, political cartoons, videos, and articles are shared within seconds, oftentimes regardless of the veracity or honesty of the content.  In fact, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement revealed that 28% of young people heard or read about the 2018 Presidential Elections through social media alone.  Compared to the 40% who reported no active outreach at all, this statistic truly shows how much potential these platforms have.  Despite the many criticisms of so-called “slacktivists” who post about hot-topic issues, but do not take action outside of social media to get more involved in politics, the Harvard Political Review found that seventy-eight percent of Millenials who have three or more social media accounts are registered to vote, compared to the fifty percent of non-social media users who are registered.  All evidence seems to indicate that social media is having(and will have, in the future) an undeniable effect on youth voter turnout and general engagement.

      But, social media takes organized nationwide effort for any real results to occur; what can one do on a local level to make a difference in turnout, outside of registering people to vote?  The answer is complex, but clear: political literacy and education.  A localized movement for unbiased political literacy courses in schools would help new voters learn about the issues they care about and motivate them to become more involved in the hot-topic issues of the day.  Outside of the standard high school or college government course, a nonpartisan “Modern Issues” class has the potential to prompt youth voters to use their voice to make informed decisions and potentially change the outcomes of entire elections.  In 2018, around one in three teens voted.  This number has the potential to change exponentially if this demographic is motivated to vote.  Educated voters are the best voters, and conversely uninformed voters can be the most harmful.  When more than thirty-four percent of nonvoting teens cite issues relating to lack of knowledge(including forgetting to vote and not knowing how to vote, and not meeting the registration deadline), education and knowledge are clearly key to beginning to address the issue.