The United States 2016 presidential campaign and political events going on globally have demonstrated that today’s youth are unhappy with institutional and structural injustices set by the precedent of our ancestors. Equal access to education, human rights, women’s rights, and climate change are polarizing topics our generation has striven to fight and die for. Given our multifaceted and diverse interests and passions, we could indeed be an agent of great change.One way in which we could make a significant impact is through voting–so why is it that historically in the United States and in all European countries that young people, ages 18-24, have had lower voter turnout rates than any other age group?
According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 45% of people aged 18-24 voted in the 2012 presidential election, which was slightly lower than the 51% of young people who voted in the 2008 presidential election. Moreover, only approximately 20% of young people ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 midterm congressional election, which has been deemed the lowest youth turn out rate in a federal election. Granted, studies have shown that all voter turnout is lower for midterm elections in the United States. It is also important to recognize that voter turnout among the younger demographics have decreased from 50% in 1964 to 38% in 2012 according to a United States Census report on young adult voting in presidential elections.In the recent polarizing 2016 “Brexit” vote, a mere 64% of young people cast a vote.However, there is a stammering 30% disparity between this age group and older demographics. Although our generation is focused upon and passionate about justice and social issues, we remain remarkably silent come Election Day.
How can young people who are upset about the status quo establish an era of change? A Harvard Institute of Politics Survey on Young People’s Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service demonstrates that 79% of young people are not politically active. In other words, more than half of young people have never signed an online petition, written and email to their congress member or locally elected official, attended a political rally, or volunteered for a political campaign or issue. There is no question why politicians do not dedicate their time to young people’s issues—they have no incentive. Constituent votes maintain a system of checks and balances by which members of government must respond to if they wish to be (re)elected. Consequently, government officials best respond to votes. If young people are not voting, their voices cannot be accurately represented by elected officials. Thus, in order to stimulate an ethos of socio-political change, voting and being politically involved are necessary. If a “youth” movement occurred in which young voters became politically involved, there would be a political shift of attention to the issues that matter to us. If government officials are not doing their job by representing us, then it is our job as citizens to replace them with someone else who will, illustrating the benefit of democracy.
In an era of social media, often rife with yet another tragedy at one’s fingertips, it is no wonder why a third of young people believe their vote won’t make an impact and become complacent. The fight for change, however, would never begin if all changemakers and activists felt like their single voice would never make an impact. In 1867, John Stuart Mill sought to amend the 1867 Reform Bill by replacing the word “man” to “person” in order to grant women the right to vote. Reading our history books, it is clear that he did not succeed in this attempt, but he rallied members of parliament to start thinking about the issue. The fight for women’s suffrage grew slowly thereafter until women in Britain and in other countries got the right to vote in the twentieth century.
Although the twenty-sixth amendment in the United States allows us to cast a vote at eighteen, it is still as if the cards are stacked against the younger generations. We are in the most nomadic state in our lives—where we are today may be completely different than where we may be in a couple of months. Just to vote in various kinds of elections as a college student, it is not unusual to need to register to vote several times in one year. Working on a campus campaign to register all students to vote, I have learned that many young people my age share this experience. In addition, each state has its own set of registration laws, and if you do not go to school in your home state, it can take a lot of time and inquiry to find out where and when one ought to register by. This is ultimately another reason why so many of us young people do not vote let alone register to vote. But do not let the difficulty or the hassle be a barrier, for the outcome is much greater.
Change is not easy to achieve—it takes hard work and a lot of dedication to attain, but we must not be afraid to vote, speak and pursue change. We can expect a system to work in our favor if we do not demand it to do so. So today, on the International day of the Youth I call on all young people to register to vote and start thinking about what change you want to inspire through your vote come this fall or in any local, state, or national election. Remember, we are not voting for today, but rather for the change that we can make happen tomorrow.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Disclaimer: All views/opinions stated in this article are of the respective writer and not of The Youth Observer.