BY PAUL GRIFFIN // NOV. 2, 2018 //
With midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6, candidates’ get-out-the-vote operations are in full swing. The question, as it is every two years, is whether young voters will actually turn out at the polls.
It’s no secret that many young people choose not to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, only about 49 percent of millennials — those ages 18-35 that year — reported to have voted, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s about 20 percentage points less than the baby boomers (people ages 49-72), of which 69 percent voted in the election.
At Curry College, voter apathy is even worse. According to Student Government Association President Rachel O’Donnell, only about 25 percent of the student population voted in the latest SGA election. Students could vote through the Curry portal, meaning they didn’t even have to get out of bed to cast a ballot. “It seems to be a generational thing,” says O’Donnell.
Curry Psychology professor Eric Weiser says it’s understandable that many college students are slow to engage in politics.
“Young people, 19, 20, 21 who are in college, are worried about exams,” says Weiser. “They’re worried about papers, they’re worried about friends, what they’re gonna do with their lives. They’re not as worried about things that influences political attitudes like taxes.”
Weiser says he doesn’t see a lot of political engagement in his students, but reiterated that it was typical for college students to be less engaged than older voters. A study out of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., last year reported that voter turnout among college students in the 2016 election actually increased by 3 percentage points, to 48 percent, compared to the 2012 election, but that too is well below most categories of older eligible voters.
Professor Andrew Horn of the English Department believes that today’s students aren’t particularly engaged in politics because they don’t see how it connects with their lives.
“They feel as though they have nothing at stake,” says Horn, who remembers the feelings of impending doom when he was an undergraduate student during the Cold War. “We were all absolutely convinced there would be nuclear war between the United States and Russia, and that we were going to die.”
Of course, young people have plenty at stake in this midterm election. For example, a ballot referendum in Massachusetts asks voters to decide whether there should be strict limits on how many patients a nurse can care for at any one time. Voting “yes” would impose a patient cap, which would arguable require hospitals to hire many more nurses, while a “no” vote would maintain existing laws and rules.
“This is going to directly effect me when I graduate,” says Yasmina Resendes, a senior Nursing major at Curry. “I agree there should be a limit on how many patients a nurse should care for, but I don’t like the way this [referendum] is worded.”
“I think I’m more motivated to vote because Question 1 directly effects what I want to do for my job when I graduate,” says sophomore Nursing major Olivia Francis. “My nursing instructors have really been trying to inform us about how this would affect us, but they try to avoid pushing us one way or another.”
O’Donnell of the Student Government Association says it would be great if students could vote in state and federal elections on campus at Curry. “I think a lot more students would vote if it were more accessible,” she says.
Ultimately, though, voting participation comes down to engagement. If students don’t understand what’s at stake, for them personally or for others, they simply won’t put in the effort to cast a ballot.
Says Curry English Professor Karrie Szatek, “No matter the situation, you have to be able to bring it home.”