It strikes me as odd that college-aged people are such a large percentage of all of the political events I’ve ever attended. A group so thoroughly jazzed about a particular candidate somehow has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. There’s an overwhelming apathy amongst us when it comes to showing up on Election Day. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics, only a third of 18 to 30 year olds believe that their votes will make a difference. If young people want to be taken seriously by politicians, we have to start turning out to the polls despite the variety of obstacles that may lie in our path.
Numerous factors from marriage status to education level are often cited as indications that someone will vote. One consistency is that a group with the highest turnout in almost every category is more likely to be older: wealthy people vote more than poor people, married more than single, educated more than not, and religious more than heathen. People older than 60 are indeed 15 percent more likely to be registered to vote than people 18 to 30. So clearly, something about age makes a person more likely to cast a ballot. A study from a Psychology Today article believes that it comes down to mobility. Young adults are more likely to move to different states, and that means registering to vote again. Evidently, this demographic isn’t willing to deal with the tedium of applying again. When the voting age was lowered to 18 via the 26th Amendment in 1971, about 41 percent of the newly eligible 18 to 20 year olds had registered in time for the 1972 presidential election. In 2000, the registration rate for that group was still 41 percent.
Certain facts about our election process are indeed discouraging, and it’s understandable when someone loses faith in democracy when they first learn of our government’s corruptions. The barring of convicted criminals from voting, the placing of polling stations far away from poorer neighborhoods, and gerrymandered districts that allow parties to form strangleholds on Congressional offices are all enormously disheartening. At this moment, the nation is embroiled in a presidential primary process that uses antiquated practices and throws undue weight behind an incredibly small, unrepresentative portion of the population.
Despite these unfair procedures, the tools to make democracy work are more abundant than ever. The high school graduation rate is now 76 percent—and 72 percent of graduates pursue higher education—but more importantly, we live in the information age. It’s easier than ever for anyone to learn about politics regardless of their access to formal education. Yet our turnout statistics are still consistently disappointing.
The youth vote hit a peak in 2012 when 40 percent of us turned out to vote in the 2012 election, mostly for Barack Obama. Those votes were determined to be a decisive factor in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to analysis from the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. But that momentum failed to carry into 2014’s midterm election, when only 20 percent bothered to show up.
It’s possible to affect change by marking a paper or pulling a lever that represents the change we want to see. We complain about corrupt politicians, yet we are the ones who allow them to hold their jobs by not voting them out. The system is indeed flawed, and sometimes voting can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Let your voice be heard, and push our government toward the laws that we desperately need. 2016 is here, and we know that we can create change. We just have to show up on Election Day.