Youth voter turnout for Presidential Elections hasn’t always yielded mass numbers in the polls, but this year young voters have become a political force.
With pressing global issues like a deadly virus that has killed over one million people, systemic racial injustice and the catastrophic effects of climate change at the forefront of their minds, younger Americans appear more eager to vote than ever.
“COVID has flipped the entire world,” said 19-year-old Connie Chan, a student at New York University studying Communication and Media. “We’ve had to constantly adapt. The only thing I look forward to is the change that can make it so the odds can be in our favor.”
Younger generations — Millennials and Gen Z members — now make up 37% of eligible United States voters, according to a Brookings Institution study released in July. Along with being the most racially diverse and likely to lean Democratic, their share of the vote is now roughly equal to baby boomers and those older — giving young people the ability to significantly impact the course of the 2020 election.
According to a national poll conducted by Harvard University in October, 63% of 18 to 29-year-olds said they will “definitely be voting” this year, compared to 47% in the prior 2016 election. Economic insecurity, healthcare inaccessibility and mental health issues brought on by the surging virus, combined with increasing awareness on the impact of political leaders’ decisions, have become the main drivers for the increase in youth voter turnout in this election.
Among those is Abelia Martinez, an 18-year-old Fordham University student studying Business Administration and Management, who said the police brutality and racism that continues to persist in America is all the more reason she is voting.
This year’s election follows months of protests that swept across the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, triggering a national reckoning in seeking to address systemic racism in America.
Martinez, a first-generation American whose parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life, said she is “appalled” by the president’s statements on Mexican immigrants.
Trump has called Mexicans drug dealers, criminals and rapists. Under his administration, he has also taken additional steps to detain migrant children and secured $15 billion in funds to build a Southern border wall.
“Trump is unfit for president. He has made a fool of himself and lied about his achievements,” said Martinez. “I will not support a president that does not care about the people and promotes white supremacy.”
Chan is also excited to exercise her right to vote for the first time during a “tumultuous” year, where “a lot of things in our life have been politicized,” citing access to healthcare as the death toll has climbed past 220,000 deaths in the U.S. due to the global pandemic.
What’s more, Chan had been anxiously awaiting whether Congress would replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by the Trump administration just 38 days before the election. The Senate approved Barrett’s nomination to the country’s highest court in a party-line vote 52-48 on Tuesday.
Barrett has expressed disagreement with the upholding of the Affordable Care Act, which provides healthcare to millions of Americans, and her clear history of anti-abortion could contribute to the overturn of the Roe v. Wade landmark case.
While some younger voters appear driven by key issues like the potential imbalance on the Supreme Court and the undermining of human rights, others say every election is crucial and should be weighted equally.
“[This election] is critical, but it is always critical,” said Chan. Adding, the only way to persuade non-voters to become first-time voters is to brand each election as the most important.
Martinez agreed. “This election is critical as it will determine the safety, security and happiness of the next four years of people’s lives,” she said. “It is a privilege to vote, and I will not let my vote go to waste.”