BY KYLIE YEATMAN
Voters in the 18-25 age demographic typically show the lowest turnout of the electorate in both local and national elections, but as the coveted youth vote has taken precedence for a number of candidates in the 2020 presidential election, candidates may have a reason to be optimistic: Not only did youth voter turnout emerge at an all-time high in the 2018 midterm elections, but according to Pew Social Trends, young voters are most likely to shape the 2020 election.
According to a survey from Youth Political Pulse, 46 percent of young voters believe that their votes may have an impact on the government, with issues like climate change and college affordability being a top priority: At CHS, a majority of seniors noted concerns regarding the environmental policies of candidates.
“We’re the generation who will have to live with inaction as it pertains to climate change,” senior Brian Porter comments. “However, I think most teens are uninterested in voting because most of the candidates are too extreme for the majority.”
Republican challenger for Congress Jeff Gorman, who helped register young voters at Cal State University, Monterey Bay, notes the importance of young voters in shaping the 2020 election, adding that the conversation around climate should be approached with less pessimism.
“I think today younger people are increasingly optimistic because we are seeing America really thrive for the first time in many years,” Gorman says. “Some in the media play on fears so much that I am concerned that many kids are starting to feel despondent.”
Gorman adds that today’s youth voters feel more assured in their role in the electoral process.
Despite involvement in activism being a prevalent theme in youth politics, some young voters still report feeling like their vote may not count or as though their voice is not as loud as that of older generations.
“Many kids I know feel uninterested in voting because they think that their vote won’t matter,” comments senior LiMei Louis, who argues the opposite, noting that voters aged 18-25 represent a more powerful voting block than ever before, with 4.5 million members of Gen Z voting in the 2018 primaries.
Monterey High School senior Annaliese Mann, who has attended the Monterey Women’s March annually since 2017, explains how being surrounded by her peers has encouraged her to vote in the California primaries.
“Events like those are impactful because they give us an actual platform to voice our opinions publicly,” Mann explains. “A lot of young people feel overshadowed by older generations, and movements like this make them feel like they can really make change happen in the world.”
Youth turnout at events like the March for Our Lives and the increasing prevalence of online political discourse may lead to a more politically active generation, but for many members of Gen Z, the 2020 election will be their first opportunity to vote. As noted by senior Ella Fenstermaker, this can be a good thing as long as young voters are careful about where their information is coming from.
“In general, teens feel uninterested because it takes time and effort to find information on candidates and different policies,” says Fenstermaker, who warns against solely finding information from online sources. “There is often so much bias towards one candidate or another, and social media is a big way that presidential candidates try to gain supporters, so I don’t feel like I can fully trust what I see online.”
Indeed, social media advertising has become integral and pervasive as a form of relating to young voters, and therefore increasing youth turnout. Take, for example, democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, who has spent upwards of $528 million on advertising with a lofty focus on YouTube and other social media ads, according to Adweek.
“The focus on social media is because politicians have realized it’s the only way to reach young voters,” senior Kieren Daste says. “Social media advertising does a great job at polarizing the political sphere, which results in heated large-scale discussions.”
Youth voter turnout will be one of the determining factors in the 2020 election, and while historical precedent may be against them, many remain optimistic that the 18-25 demographic will vote fervently.
“At the end of the day, it’s all going to come down to turnout,” Carmel High government teacher Bill Schrier says. “I’d like to hope that young people are motivated to vote, but the numbers will speak for themselves.”