Student apathy toward elections: why millennials aren’t voting
Encouraging young adults to cast their vote has been a debated topic since 1962, according to USA Today.
The low voter turnout among young adults is seen in local, state and federal levels.
“This is a growing trend, but as a young professor I can say that the problem is not unique to this generation,” comparative politics lecturer Laila Sorurbakhsh said. “Looking at voter turnout trends, however, you can see that in the past few election cycles, turnout has stabilized (for millenials) right around 58 percent for presidential elections and 30 to 33 percent for congressional elections. This is a problem we’ve been experiencing for a while.”
The 2015 mayoral election consisted of a 26.9 percent turnout, the highest turnout since 2003 according to the Houston Chronicle. Although this spike may have been attributed to the interest in the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the turnout itself was low.
Political science professor Cyrus Contractor said political participation is needed at every level of government.
“When it comes to Houston and local politics, I always bring up the importance that politics happen outside of D.C. as well,” Contractor said. “Governance, governments, elections and policies don’t just take place in those buildings in D.C. but everywhere across the nation. People need good government and good governance. Either we don’t see those things as being political, or we are too focused on D.C., if we are focused on politics at all.”
For local elections ranging from state elections and inward, Sorurbakhsh believes there should be a much higher turnout because of its proximity to the people it serves.
“Anytime you have an election that does not fall on a presidential election year, turnout is going to be low,” Sorurbakhsh said. “So much of our attention is on national politics — particularly from the media — that we feel that these elections are the most important or salient. However, the truth is that the outcomes of local elections matter more in terms of our everyday lives than national elections.”
For presidential elections, the U.S. Census Bureau shows that on average less than half of eligible young adult voters actually make it to their district’s poll site, with factors ranging from lack of access to transportation to refusing to vote.
There are high stakes for young voters to cast their vote because government is confronted with issues directly concerning the youth, according to the Annette Strauss Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Something that is important to remember about the democratic process is that it takes place based upon who participates, and it doesn’t make special exceptions for those who don’t,” said John McDonald, doctoral candidate in political science. “A benefit of young people participating in elections is that it gives them the chance to familiarize themselves with some of the issues, and after wrestling with those issues for some time, (it) can enable them to become responsible voters.”
For Student Government President Shaun Theriot-Smith, the second factor for student apathy toward elections is regarding the difference in generations’ declaration of political ideology.
“I think students and young folks tend to see primaries as an older institution,” Theriot-Smith said. “Many students don’t explicitly identify as a Democratic or Republican or (as a) specific party, and many tend to opt-out participating in parties all together. So, they see primary voting as an institutional them versus us, red versus blue.”
A third factor is transportation. Theriot-Smith believes because of the lack of transportation and the strict guidelines workplaces have for requesting time off, voters become unmotivated to go through the obstacles of voting in primary elections.
“There are people throughout the world who don’t have the right to self-govern, which is akin to saying that they don’t have the right to create the world in which they are a part (of),” McDonald said. “Living in a country based on the principles of self-governance is a wonderful opportunity that should not be taken lightly. That is why it is important for voters, young and old alike, to truly wrestle with the political issues of our time so that our democracy not only continues, but flourishes.”