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E 11-2020        November 2-9th, 2020

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Will the Youth Actually Vote?

By Madison Hoiby

As Americans face an economic recession, a global pandemic and issues related to healthcare and inequality, voting in the 2020 election holds power to steer history. Generation Z alone makes up 10 percent of eligible votes, so the question is not do young voters influence the election. Will they?

According to the Harvard University Institute of Politics, American youth voters will turn out in high, possibly record-breaking numbers this November. Barriers related to residency and mobility in the era of the pandemic may counteract the youth’s political enthusiasm in poll numbers and hold them back from voting.

In 2018, 36 percent of young voters (18-29 year olds) stepped up to vote. This was a 79 percent increase from 2014, where 20 percent of young people voted. The youth involvement in the 2018 election is often attributed to the Parkland shooting, which sparked thousands of youth-lead protests nationwide against gun violence.

According to data by The Voter Participation Center, another surge in votes may be in store for 2020. Following the protests after the horrific murder of George Floyd, The Voter Participation Center noted a 250 percent increase in online voter registration applications. Coupled with concerns of climate change, unemployment and other topics concerning young voters, the United States’ current political polarization may be enough to entice young voters to step up and vote.

Record high voting predictions

Comparing events that sparked action in 2018 to current political issues, Political Scientist and Professor at the University of California, San Diego, Samuel L. Popkin believes the youth’s momentum from 2018 will continue. “In 2018, youth turnouts zoomed compared to last midterms and there’s no reason to believe from all the polls on enthusiasm that they’re going to drop off,” Popkin said. “Younger voters are showing a big change.”

Data from the Harvard Youth Poll, which surveyed Americans aged 18 to 29 regarding their interest in the 2020 election, suggests that youth turnout may reach a record high. The poll reported that 63 percent of respondents said they would “definitely be voting,” in the upcoming election, exceeding their 2016 report by 16 percent. Justin Tseng, Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, who organized the poll, stated in a Harvard IOP release, “Young Americans find themselves on the frontlines of the ‘triple crises’ of COVID... Their education has been disrupted, job prospects falter and communities experiencing a racial reckoning causing constant concern about their daily livelihoods and the wellbeing of their friends and their families.”

Is residential mobility a voting roadblock for the youth?

Polls that display youth voter enthusiasm seem promising, but enthusiasm is far different from action. American youth historically turn out at lower rates than older generations. While some may simply be apathetic towards politics, other politically-engaged young adults can struggle with unclear voter registration rules and complications related to residential mobility. Younger generations move more than older ones, so with registration rules that vary from state-to-state, they may end up ineligible to vote in their current place of residency. Additionally, as college campuses react to unpredictable COVID-19 breakouts, students who live on campus are more uncertain of their living situation.

Anand Sokhey, a political author and Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, shares that complications with residency and mobility can counteract the youth’s political enthusiasm in poll numbers. “On the one side you have this crazy set of historical circumstances which is making everything uncertain and difficult, and on the other side you have a lot of people that are mobilized around a bad situation,” Sokhey said. “My suspicion is that the numbers are going to end up looking like a lot of other years.”

American youth have the power to substantially influence the election, but this will not happen without action. Online resources like Vote 411 can help first-time voters confidently navigate through the election process.  It is imperative that young voters register, double-check their registration status, pay attention to deadlines and most importantly, get out and vote.