Inspiring an Interest in College Students to Vote

It comes as no mystery that young adults age 18-30 have the lowest turnout for voters of any age group in America. Since the 1970’s or earlier, this age group in particular has struggled to participate in the function and future of their own Government. According to census.gov, the average turnout from 1980-2016 for 18-29-year-olds is between 40-50%, which is the lowest percentage compared to the 70% or greater of 65+ year-olds. While the precise motivations (or lack thereof) behind this age group choosing to refrain from voting is still up for debate by political scientists, it is certainly apparent that these young adults have little interest in politics at all. With this knowledge in mind, the important question we must look into is, ‘how can we inspire young adults to not only participate, but care about the flourishing of their Government?’.

There is a large participation gap between the ages 18-29, and 65+. The 65+ age group has steadily hit or exceeded 70% turn out for elections since the 1980’s, according to a chart created by census.gov. This demographic has the largest turnout compared to the roughly 45% on average of voters between 18-29. The is gap in participation has long been debated by political scientists, and is the result of many social and economic factors.

Before we can take action to inspire younger generations to vote, it is important that we look at the other end of the voting spectrum. If we can understand why ages 65+ have the highest turnout of voters, it might provide the tools needed to best help the younger generations. One reason that retired people vote more often is speculated by Emily Brandon of usnews.com to be because it is a social norm among their generation. She states that “Senior citizens are more likely to be longtime residents of their communities, and may be influenced by friends and neighbors of the same age who are also voting. “With older folks, there is a norm to vote. They think of themselves as voters, and they care about being a voter,” says Hersh. “People who are detached from the election system are perfectly willing to say they didn’t vote.”

This provides major insight as to why young generations do not vote. Young adults have a burning desire to fit in with their peers and be liked. With social media being the biggest culprit. This often generates a herd mentality where everyone is trying to impress each other, but it eventually makes them all think and act the same way in order to not stick out of the crowd. Nobody likes to be the odd one out, and since the majority of younger generations already don’t vote, it becomes easy for new adults to follow suit. The lack of initiative for young voters’ snowballs on itself as time goes on. The less people in this age group vote, the more effort and courage it takes to step out of the crowd and be the one person who decides to take action. Motivation is one of the most effective mentalities to inspire in people to act in a certain way. This tactic is used by marketing, social media influencers, business management, teachers (the good ones anyway), charities, parents, and even churches. Unfortunately, for younger generations, they are being seduced by so many different sources every single day. Motivated to buy products, ‘like’ pictures or statuses, or even attend conventions full of other people with the same interests. Unfortunately, the one place that young individuals are not being motivated to act, is in politics. Which happens to be one of the most important areas of interest.

Another massive barrier preventing young adults from voting is, according to ysa.org, “They’re not taught how the government and elections work or feel like they don’t know enough to vote.”. Ysa.org also states that “College graduates are more likely to look for information about politics. And they are more likely to have friends who vote. People without a college degree, he says, are less likely to seek out political information.”. There is a contrast here between college graduates and young college students which comes down to education and knowledge. Young adults aren’t taught how to vote, or the importance of it early on. They cannot be expected to participate if they are not informed of how important their contribution is. For the most part, voting is treated as an afterthought for this age group because nobody puts in the effort to teach them the importance and how to go about participating. One or two political science classes obviously aren’t enough. It’s one thing to know how the government works, and another to know how to think, value your opinion, research candidates, and actually go out to vote in the polls with the information that you have.

Now that we know the numbers, and some of the reasons for the lack of voting, we can take action to help boost the number of young voters. According to an article on washingtonpost.com, “social media and text messages can work, if they’re personal.” The article further states that “showing Facebook users photos of specific friends who had voted increased turnout in the 2010 election by 0.4 percent.”. This plays heavily into motivation. The automated text messages and advertisements all over social media are near useless. College students are so used to ignoring spam, that it becomes second nature to ignore political ads. What works is to make the message personal. We need to inspire the few young adults who do go out and vote to post on social media that they did and are proud of it. If “influencers” were to show their fans that they are a proud voter, it would make a massive ripple effect. People are inspired by what they are familiar with. Young college students have a disconnect from the older generations, so seeing political advertisements from people older than their parents isn’t helping. More advertisements and social media posts need to come straight from young college students looking to make a difference. Strike directly at the source and show young adults that it is “cool” and popular to vote. But not only that, to show them why they should vote. Inspiring kids to vote should not be an attempt to reel them in like fish on a hook, it should strive to light a fire in each individual an eager desire to vote.

Accompanying the motivation needs to come a complete overhaul to the educational instruction of politics. The most important aspect is to get young adults to actually care about voting. Motivating them all to vote when they don’t know what they are doing would be little help for the betterment of this country’s future. We must also educate them on why each one of them should care and has a voice that deserves to be heard. A quote from Mindy Romero, director of the UC Davis project is stated on edsource.org: “If you get to youth before they are 18, if you teach them not only the civics process, but also the how and the why and the what about how to actually vote, you are much more likely to get them to turn out when they are 18.”. How can we expect an 18-year-old who just entered adult world with very little prior knowledge of politics, to vote in the elections? It’s simple, we shouldn’t. We need to start educating people before they turn 18. If we can equip kids with the knowledge and resources before they turn 18, then I believe the turn out would be drastic for voters of the 18-29 demographic. It is crucial to not only teach kids how to vote, but why. One of the biggest faults of the American school system, is that we do not teach kids how to think. We merely give them the information and throw them to the wolves. Learning how to think for oneself is the most critical skill to learn for any individual and would make a massive difference in the number of voters. We need to not only teach kids the ins and outs of politics, but why it is important and teach kids how to think critically to make a decision on voting for a politician that they believe best represents their beliefs.

In conclusion, the amount of 18-30-year-olds who vote in elections is dwindling, and action must be taken to increase these numbers. Utilizing social media to motivate young adults through personal methods that reach the individuals emotions, is one of the best ways to get people to take action. Educating kids before they turn 18 on not only how to vote, but why is the way to make those already motivated voters educated enough to make a smart decision based on their own beliefs and interests, so not to cause chaos with sporadic, random voting.

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